On being free

chains

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.

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How the bible gets almost everything wrong: volume 2

bible-questions

The bible’s moral inconsistencies:

As we saw here and here, the bible’s morality is confused and frequently contradictory. Jesus himself adds to the confusion with pronouncements like:

You have heard it said (in Exodus 21.24), ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matthew 5:38-39)

and

You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5.27-28).

God’s ‘standards’ change depending on who thinks they’re channelling him:

In Joel 3.8 he advocates slavery but in Exodus 21.16 he forbids it.

In Matthew 6.1 Jesus insists good deeds should be done secretly forgetting he’s already said, in Matthew 5.1, that they should be done openly to impress others.

In Matthew 7.1-3 Jesus says judging others is to be avoided while in 1 Corinthians 6.2-4, Paul gives it the go-ahead; judging others is fine.

In Matthew 19.10-12 Jesus disparages marriage but the writer of Hebrews approves of it (13.4)

God allows divorce in Deuteronomy 21.10-14 but in Matthew 5.32 Jesus doesn’t.

And on and on. Like everyone else’s, Christians’ morality is socially determined. Unlike everyone else’s, their morality reflects the bible’s own confusion and inconsistencies. To accommodate its contradictions, Christians cherry-pick from it to bolster their pre-existing prejudices and biases. The rest of us are then measured – judged – against the resulting pick’n’mix morality and, boy, are we found lacking. ‘Biblical morality’ is nothing if not projectile.

 

The bible’s weak understanding of psychology:

Many of those who wrote the bible had a particularly bleak view of human beings. To these men we are totally depraved and our every thought is ‘continually evil’ (Genesis 6.5) Our ‘hearts’ are supremely deceitful and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17.9) and we’re under the control of the devil (Ephesians 2.1-3). We are incapable of doing good (Romans 3.10-13) and as Jesus himself puts it:

That which proceeds from a person, defiles that person. For from within, out of the heart, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile a person. (Mark 7.20-23).

I don’t recognise this as a description of myself and I’m sure you don’t of yourself. Of course human beings are capable of terrible acts (I’m writing this not long after a fanatical Muslim murdered 22 young, innocent people in a terrorist bombing in Manchester, here in the UK) and, on a more mundane level, we can behave in thoughtless or vindictive ways, entirely out of self-interest.

But we’re also capable of great kindness, compassion and concern. We are a complex mixture of these traits, the good and the bad. The biblical view that we are only ever hateful, devoid of any good, is jaundiced and unnecessarily negative. If parents were to spend their time telling a child he or she is only ever bad, wicked and evil, they would rapidly deprive the child of their self-worth, self-confidence and ability to relate in positive, loving ways to others. The description would become self-fulfilling. This is what the God of the bible does to his children.

Neither are we awash with sin. Sin is a religious idea, used to describe how humans fall short of the glory of God. It need not concern us here. There is no God to fall short of; sin therefore is a concept without any traction in the real world.

 

The bible’s fantasy perspective of the world:

Did you know this world is controlled by the devil and his demons? That powers and principalities of the air are at war with God and the powers of holiness all around us? In fact, the devil is always looking for ways to discredit the bible and is constantly trying to weaken Christians’ faith. He smuggles false doctrine into the church in order to mislead believers, and uses the hoax that is evolution to prevent unbelievers from accepting Christ as their saviour. He gives women ideas above their station, which God says is to be submissive, and has unleashed a wave of homosexual behaviour and gender confusion to blind people to God’s goodness and to kindle his wrath.

Did you know, though, that this fallen world and the ‘heavens’ above it are soon to be destroyed and replaced by a new earth and new heavens, where Jesus will reign over the select few God decides to raise from the dead? Despite Satan thinking he’s in control, it’s actually God who is. God only allows the devil to think he’s top-dog while he, God, is secretly pulling the strings.

If you do know these things, and if you believe them, then you have a ‘biblical worldview’. Or, to put it another way, you’ve bought into third-rate hokum that bears no relation to the world – the universe, even – as it is.

 

Sin

Sin

During the recent election in the UK, the leader of the Liberal Democrat party, Tim Farron, was asked if he thought gay sex was a sin. Farron is a born-again Christian and instead of answering the question, he hedged round it. Predictably, this meant that journalists returned to it, with the politician dodging it each time.

In all probability, Farron does regard gay sex as a sin. The bible teaches that all behaviour that offends God is sin, causing a rift between mortals and the deity. This, biblically speaking, is what defines sin. Tim Farron would have been better being honest, saying that his faith leads him to believe that sex between people of the same sex is sinful but that personally he is a supporter of equal rights for all. His voting record indicates this to be the case; he has consistently voted in favour of LGBT rights while, presumably, maintaining his faith. Perhaps if he had answered in this way, he might not have felt the need resign as Lib-Dem leader on the grounds that his role as party leader conflicted with his personal beliefs. Predictably, evangelical groups have claimed he was hounded out of office because of his beliefs, but it seems far more likely he was, as he said himself, finding it difficult to reconcile his faith-induced worldview with his public duty. It must be difficult defaming your colleagues when you’re supposed to be demonstrating Christ’s love.

Whatever the reason, those who believe that human behaviour is sinful are wrong. Nothing humans do is a sin. Nothing we do, gay sex included, offends God because there is no God to offend. Sin is an entirely religious concept that has outlived its usefulness, if it ever really had any. Which is not to say human behaviour cannot be immoral. It can, but immoral behaviour and sin are not the same thing. As a rule of thumb, morality is determined by the extent to which our behaviour adversely affects others. Deliberately harming them physically, materially or emotionally is (likely to be) immoral behaviour. Murder, theft and abuse are immoral – but they are not ‘sin’.

Morality is not always clear cut, however; arguably it would not be wrong to murder a terrorist or suicide bomber before he can embark on a killing spree. Aborting collections of cells in a woman’s uterus, if that is what she wants, is also not an immoral act. Similarly, victimless behaviours such as sex – both hetero and homosexual – between free, consenting adults is neither wrong nor immoral. Nor is masturbation, gender fluidity or transgenderism. And as for the betes noir of the church of my youth (and who knows, they may still be) – listening to rock music, having the odd drink and dancing – they’re not either.

On the other hand, some of the activities indulged in by religious people are immoral: attempting to impose their beliefs on others; misrepresenting and denigrating those different from themselves; pressurising gay people to deny their sexuality; advocating the death penalty for homosexuality; covering up fellow-believers’ criminal activity; teaching children that creation myths are true; dismissing science; persuading people that prayer works; convincing others they are sinners.

We all behave immorally, thoughtlessly and carelessly, from time to time. But we are not, as a consequence, destined for hell, nor are we in need of a saviour to magically wash away any wrong-doing; if that really worked, we would see no immoral Christians. No, when we have behaved immorally we need to make reparation to those we have harmed, not ‘repent’ by begging forgiveness of some irascible god. What we should never do, whatever the Righteous ones tell us, is regard ourselves as sinners. We are not: it is impossible to offend a deity that doesn’t exist.

 

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.

 

 

 

God’s Wrath (and those who direct it)

typhoon-phillipines

The idea that natural disasters and death are punishments from God – for whatever we humans have done to offend him – is still with us. As I suggested here, such a notion has been around from the beginnings of religious belief. It, together with its counterpart – that we need to appease the god(s) who so afflict us – is responsible for the genesis of all religion. There are those today whose thinking is wilfully stranded in the ancient world-views of ‘sacred’ texts that embody this dual notion of punishment that’s somehow merited and the need to appease the deity dishing out the punishment.

Here it is expressed recently by bear of little brain, Sam Rohrer, who has it directly from the Lord that he, the Almighty, has turned his back on America because it does not force immigrants to believe in him. America, he says has

changed the historic biblical rules (regarding immigration) … this is a reason why God must discipline our country.

Looney tune Pat Robertson, with his direct hotline to the Almighty, insists that it’s abortion that’s going to bring down God’s wrath:

One day, a righteous, holy God is going to demand an accounting for every drop of blood that has been spilled of innocent, unborn babies. And we just keep it in mind, when it happens it’s going to be awful.

Andrew Bieszad, on the other hand, knows that Hurricane Matthew which struck Florida back in August was God punishing the State for its tolerance of ‘evil sodomites’ (you don’t get much more tolerant than that.):

Stop sinning, especially with sodomy, as it is one of the four sins in the Bible which cry out to God for vengeance, which we are seeing now.

And these are just a few examples. There are many more. According to his whack-job servants, God can punish us, entirely indiscriminately, by unleashing earthquakes, tsunamis and floods; he can turn his back on us so that we wallow in our own filth; he can show his distaste for our ‘sin’ by raining down death and destruction upon us.

Naturally there’s plenty of this kind of thinking in the Old Testament, where God is credited with drowning his entire creation when a few ancient tribesmen misbehave (Genesis 6); he’s made to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah after every male turns inexplicably violent-gay (Genesis 19) and he’s said to wipe out whole swathes of his chosen people because they don’t pay him enough attention (Exodus 32.28).

None of these things happened, of course. They’re stories, myths or legends that incorporate the primitive thinking of the pre-scientific people who devised them, people who could only explain violent events in terms of divine punishment. It is this same thinking that is perpetuated today by those whose development is similarly arrested: through exposure to these same stories, an unwillingness to think rationally, an unhealthy preoccupation with God-nonsense and an overweening sense of self-righteousness (‘don’t blame us; it’s those others that attract God’s wrath.’)

There is no correlation between the disasters that befall humankind and God. Not one of the self-appointed prophets who say there is offer a single scrap of evidence that they are inflicted by a deity. Not one of their cause-and-effect assertions has ever been tested, can ever be tested. And – the clincher – there is no God anyway. All of which renders appeasement unnecessary and is good enough reason not to believe a word from these misguided charlatans.

Are You A Good Person?

Bleach

My old mate Dale McAlpine has been missing from the streets of my home town recently. Perhaps he’s saving himself for Pride when he can ‘coincidentally’ turn up with his fellow street-preachers and try to ruin the celebration. He hasn’t updated his blog for two years either. I’m really quite worried about him. Perhaps he’s realised the error of his ways and has abandoned all that Salvation clap-trap has taken up a more rational approach to life. I do hope so. Or perhaps he’s just given up trying to reach people for Jesus; maybe the folk where I live are so reprobate even the mighty Dale Jesus can’t reach them. I’d like to think so.

Dale, like other joyless evangelists, is fond of asking those he’s haranguing, ‘are you a good person?‘ It’s a loaded question, of course, because no matter how you answer it, the street preacher is able to use it to direct the ‘conversation’ (in which he has a megaphone and you don’t) around to Jesus. If you say ‘yes, I am a pretty good person’, the evangelist will then ask you if you’ve ever told lie or stolen something; if the answer is ‘yes’, he will then pronounce you ‘Not A Good Person’ and point out how, as a result, you are in need of Jesus. Easier to answer ‘No,’ in the first place, ‘I’m not a good person’ and get it over with quickly, leading, as this does, more directly to the saving power of Jesus. He alone, apparently can save you from not being good, stop you stealing the paper clips and save you from sin. Because, as everyone knows, accepting Jesus into your life automatically makes you a good person. (It doesn’t? Okay, but we’ll leave that for another time.)

Of course it might be the case that you really are a mass-murderer, child-molester or fraudster, and this may indeed disqualify you from being ‘a good person.’ But most of us are not; we’re just ordinary folk living ordinary lives with the characteristics, flaws and foibles that result from being raised by other ordinary folks with flaws and foibles of their own. If, on the other hand, you really are a bad person, it’s hardly likely you’re going to tell Dale and his pals about it in the middle of a public street.

However you regard yourself, it’s far better not to answer the likes of Dale at all; what right have they to know whether you regard yourself as a good person or not? What right have they to expect you to declare it publicly? Why should you respond to an agenda set entirely by them? None at all. Just shake the dirt from your Nikes and walk away.

If, however, you do feel inclined to engage with the religiously disturbed, you could try telling them you are neither a good person nor a bad one, because that is what most of us are; complex individuals who really can’t be delineated in such a nonsensically simplistic way. Only the religious seek to define human psychology with the false dichotomies of good and evil, right and wrong, righteous and unrighteous. Responding that you are neither good nor bad, while quite possibly both at the same time, is much too complicated for them. They will judge you a smart arse unworthy of God’s Grace and pretty quickly move on to a fresh victim.

Sweet and sour, nasty and nice

or, whatever happened to Luke 18.11-14?

prayer2Why is it when people are emotionally blackmailed into becoming followers of Jesus, does their conversion make them sweet and sour, nasty and nice at the same time? The sweet and nice parts are what their new experience does for them. They get a new start of sorts, are introduced to like-minded friends in the church and become compelled to share their new joy with everyone else, whether they want to hear it or not, about how much they’ve changed because of Jesus. It’s nice for them. Deluded too, but if it makes them happy then why not?

This is why not. What they don’t tell you, not at first anyway, is how sour and nasty they have also become; how they must now defend God’s standards, because, as everyone knows, the omnipotent God of all creation is incapable of defending them himself. Being born again and morphing into ‘a new creation’ involves, without exception, becoming judgemental of others, condemnatory, inflammatory, bigoted and spiteful.

You think not? Then you haven’t heard what these same Christians think about abortion and women who have them. Homosexuality and those who are gay. Transgenderism and those born in the wrong body. Science and those who value evidence. Atheism and those of us who see through believers’ sad delusion.

Christians don’t, as some of them profess, hate the sin but love the sinner. They despise those who have philosophies different from them, those who live differently from them, those who are different from them.

A recent BBC poll asked if the world wouldn’t be more peaceful without religion. Here’s the results as of 14th July 2016:

Poll

I don’t know how many people this represents nor where they’re from – the site doesn’t say – but it would seem that most of us would think we would be better off without religion. It’s long past time we were able to be; religion has nothing to offer. It’s time we stopped giving it special treatment because some of it is sweet and nice. Its sour, nasty aspects are just as much a part of it, inseparable from whatever positives its adherents say it has. I’ll be looking soon at how we might push back against religion’s pervasive and poisonous influence in society.