Jesus just isn’t up to it

A brief diversion from considering why God couldn’t possibly have created the universe…

Falls

Billy Graham’s grandson, Boz Tchividjian, has been addressing the issue of child abuse in the protestant church. He concludes his considered comments with the claim that,“there was no greater defender of children than Jesus.” Presumably he bases this on the few things Jesus is made to say about children in the gospels – all two of them: ‘suffer the little children’ (Luke 18.15-17) and that stuff about ‘whoever leads a little one astray’ (Mark 9.42), which is really more about the precariousness of faith than children. And, according to Boz, this qualifies Jesus as the greatest defender of children ever. No-one has ever done anything ‘greater’ for them. Not Dr Barnardo, not Save the Children, not the NSPCC, not foster carers or ordinary mothers and fathers. Nope, Jesus is the best ever child protector. The same Jesus in whose name both Catholic and Protestant churches have systematically abused young people down the years.

I never cease to be amazed at the willingness of Christians to superimpose every conceivable virtue, and quite a few prejudices, on a long dead itinerant preacher. But this is no modern phenomenon. It began within a few years of Jesus’ death, when religious zealot Saul decided that a peculiar turn he’d had was really Jesus returned from the dead. On the back of this, Saul – newly rebranded as ‘Paul’ – invented all manner of nonsense about a man he’d never met, his entire, tortured theology bearing little relation to any individual who had ever actually lived. We know this is what happened because of the disciples’ objections to Paul’s ideas and the very different ways in which Jesus was later to be portrayed in the synoptic gospels.

Then the crank who wrote Revelation added even more to the Jesus legend; he was now an avenging warrior-king, ready to fight dragons and smite his enemies right, left and centre.

And still it goes on: Christians insist Jesus was perfect, that he did not ‘sin’ or do anything immoral, when the figure in the synoptic gospels is alternately misogynistic, xenophobic, insulting, prone to anger, supportive of slavery and megalomaniacal. Far from perfect, in fact.

Not so, say other Christians who make it up as they go along; Jesus is a great protector and defender, looking after his flock from Heaven. But in reality, his protection is non-existent, as those who implored him to divert hurricane Harvey recently discovered. (We can be sure his uselessness as an insurance policy won’t change the way any of them regard him.)

Even if Jesus isn’t perfect or a great defender, he is, according to extremist nincompoop, Kevin Swanson, a divine punisher, inflicting natural disasters as a result of people’s ’embrace of sexual perversion’. Yet at the same time, he has a special affection for the good ol’ US of A, steering Donald Trump into the presidency and pulling his strings to Make America Great Again.

Or maybe Jesus is really a financial wizard; proponents of the ‘prosperity gospel’ say so, despite Jesus’ repeated repudiation of wealth in the gospels. On the other hand, he’s a sensitive little snowflake, easily offended by anything and everything we do down here on Earth, to the extent he gets upset by what’s on the TV.

Jesus can barely bear the weight of the incredible claims made for him in the gospels (miracle worker, prophet, healer), even though this is a great deal less than the characteristics he’s had projected on him since. Jesus was not eternal, nor the ultimate sacrifice as Paul claimed; he was not God himself as later Christians determined; he was not perfect, nor the greatest defender of children ever; he was not a super-hero warrior-king, nor was he patient, meek or mild. He did not have a preference for a nation that did not exist in his time nor was he explicitly anti-gay. Despite how he’s invariably shown in devotional material produced by western Christians, he certainly wasn’t white. He wasn’t even a Christian.

All of these attributes have been added to him, long after his death, by those who need and want him to be these very things, who need a saviour in their own image. The many Christs that exist, from those invented in the first century to those worshipped today, are, every one, figments of the human imagination.

 

 

 

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Gilead – just a stone’s throw away

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Ken Ham’s Answers In Genesis thinks it’s okay to stone people. Specifically, your wayward kids. The bible says so and AiG’s Elizabeth Mitchell is eager to defend whatever the bible says, on account of it being ‘God’s Word’. She does warn us that we need to read Deuteronomy 21:18–21, where you’ll find this particular bit of parenting advice, in context, because although the bible is the fallible, eternal, literal word of the Creator of the Universe it needs interpreting, and has to be understood in terms of the time it was written.

The context is of course that Deuteronomy and all of the Old Testament was written by primitive, superstitious bronze-age tribesmen who had the same mentality the Taliban and Isis have today. But this isn’t good enough for ‘Doctor’ Mitchell. No, her context is altogether different; she tells us in an article recently posted on the Answers In Genesis Facebook page that Deuteronomy 21 isn’t talking about children. No, it’s referring to uppity teenagers, which makes it okay. And not just teenagers, but really, really troublesome ones, which makes it doubly okay. These really, really troublesome teenagers are the scourge of society and can be stoned with impunity. The bible says so.

And yet, they’re not. Christians don’t stone awkward family members, thankfully. Perhaps, despite articles like Mitchell’s and others’, Christians don’t really believe the brutality promoted in and by the bible. Mitchell offers no explanation for this inconsistency of belief. Instead, her article peters out with some incoherent rambling about Jesus; the same Jesus who declared his undying support for these brutal, Old Testament laws (Matthew 5.17-19).

I suggested in the comments on Facebook that it doesn’t matter how much one takes context into account, the command of Deuteronomy, that rebellious youths be stoned to death, is utterly indefensible. It is cruel, barbaric and belongs in the past when, presumably, unfortunate young people were actually killed in this way by their families and tribal elders. I suggested morals and standards have evolved for the better since the days when people considered that murder was the best way to deal with youthful bad behaviour.

And for that I was metaphorically stoned myself. How dare you challenge God and his Word! How ridiculous to suggest we have better moral standards today when clearly we are in an immoral abyss worse than any before! Last Days! God’s standards are inviolate and if he says the best way to deal with miscreants is to stone them to death then it is!

The Gilead regime envisaged by Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid’s Tale, where Old Testament sanctions are stringently applied in contemporary society, is closer than we think. People like those who hang around on Answers In Genesis’ Facebook pages, like flies around a corpse, would be more than happy to see the death penalty for those who infringe God’s barbaric laws. They’d be only too willing to throw the first stone, not only at difficult teenagers, but at all the others ‘God’s Word’ says merit the death penalty: couples who have sex when the woman is on her period (Leviticus 18.19); women who are not virgins on their wedding nights (Deuteronomy 22.13-14; 20-21); gay people (Leviticus 20.13); those who work on the Sabbath (Exodus 35.2; Numbers 15.32-36); blasphemers (Leviticus 24.16) and worshippers of other gods (Deuteronomy 13.6-9))

I am not an advocate of censorship but some form of censure is necessary for those who, either in speech or writing, advocate that others be put to death. Calling for the execution of those with whom you disagree or who have different moral codes cannot – must not – be tolerated in a civilised society. Pronouncements like those of Elizabeth Mitchell, her supporters and other religious crackpots who defend the indefensible, should be flagged up as hate speech, carrying a warning that the views expressed are themselves immoral, insupportable and, ultimately, illegal in civilised society. Ideally, their poisonous rhetoric should not be provided with an online platform. This wouldn’t, before anyone suggests otherwise, violate their right to free speech; they would still be free to express their unpalatable views in their churches, Creation Museums and own homes. Excluding them from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, however, would deprive them of their wider audience – they’re only showing off, after all – and confine their hateful rhetoric to where it can do least harm.

These people are not merely ‘causing offence’ – offence is not the issue. They are inciting violence against others, influencing fellow believers to adopt their repellant views as their own. The standards of bronze-age tribes are not ours today; those who think they are abuse free speech and forfeit their right to be heard publicly.

 

 

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.

 

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 viscious, 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.

Same-sex marriage and Christian conscience

PrinciplesThe Queen gave royal assent to same-sex marriage yesterday and the first such marriages are likely to take place next summer. The aspect of the bill that concerns me is that ‘religious organisations will have to “opt in” to offering weddings, with the Church of England and Church in Wales being banned in law from doing so.’ Even before the passing of bill there were already instances of religious individuals declining services to same-sex couples, including a Christian registrar who refused to conduct a civil ceremony on grounds of conscience.

Remarkably, given the tenuous nature of everything they believe, Christians insist they have the right to ‘live according to conscience’. What this means in practice is that in circumstances where they feel their God-given principles might be compromised, they are compelled to withhold their services from others, denying the rights of fellow human-beings.

By the same principle, however, everyone else must also have the right to live according to their own consciences. If we arrange society so that we don’t have to help, provide a service or care for those whose lifestyles or beliefs are contrary to our own, we end up with a society that operates only on exclusion. The hotel owners who exclude homosexual couples will be matched by gay hotel owners who don’t like Christians; Muslim shopkeepers who object to non-Muslims won’t have to serve them; vegan restaurateurs will, on principle, bar meat-eaters; atheist surgeons will be able to deny treatment to the religious. Such a society could not function because we would all, at some point, be excluded, while at others we would be those doing the excluding. Conscience-based rejection of others, taken to its logical conclusion, could only lead to the breakdown of civilised living, which is reliant on interdependency and mutual cooperation.

A comment posted on the Guardian’s web-site following the case of a Relate counsellor who refused to help homosexual couples neatly summarises the issue:

Gay men and women have been giving good service to bigots for years. We’ve been nursing you through your illnesses, clipping your tickets, treating your diseases, teaching your kids, entertaining you on telly, delivering your mail, waiting on your table, shooting your enemies and cooking your dinner; all this time without ever claiming the “right” not to serve you if you don’t happen to approve of us. It’s time some straights grew up and stopped whining.

There is nothing biblical about living according to ‘principles’ that demand others be ostracised. On the contrary, Jesus demands that his followers give unconditionally to anyone and everyone who asks and treat others as they themselves would wish to be treated (Luke 6.30, 31, 35).

Christians who claim they have a right to reject and exclude others ‘according to conscience’ would do well to consider how they would react if ‘principled’ gays, Muslims and atheists refused them the services they sometimes feel ‘conscience bound’ to refuse others.  What cries of ‘persecution’ there would be then!

Oh wait! There already are…