Faith by any other name (is still a waste of time)

celia3Faith; the brand name for ‘wishful thinking’. In what other area of life, other than the religious, do we have faith in faith? Christians like to say we do – we have faith, they say, in the pilot who’s controlling the aircraft we’re flying in, or we have it in the surgeon who’s operating on us. But this is not faith in the sense religious people usually use the term. ‘Faith’ in pilots, surgeons and even our own abilities is more like trust or confidence; trust that the pilot is qualified to fly the plane, confidence that the surgeon is trained and skilled or that we have the ability to complete the task we’ve set ourselves. This is not faith in the sense of ‘belief in things that can’t be seen and for which there’s no evidence’. It’s not faith in the sense of wishing and hoping there really is a God and that he cares enough about us to grant us eternal life, much in the manner of the magic fountains and wish-granting genies of folk tale.

Religious faith – Christian faith particularly – is of this latter kind. It’s not trust in a real person’s capabilities, be it our own or a specialist’s. It’s a blind belief in a God who evolved from being one tribal deity among many into the everlasting, omniscient creator of all things. A God who, if he did create everything, set us on the Earth together with viruses, microbes, infections, disease, sickness, cancer, AIDs and Alzheimer’s. A God who thought putting us in an environment so frequently hostile to our well-being on an insignificant planet in the corner of a vast and indifferent universe was just the right place for us.

This is a God who doesn’t seem to understand us but who is swift to punish us while he himself stands by as half of his favoured creation endures poverty, starvation and the cruelty of much of the other half. His ways are not our ways, believers say, making what they surely know is a flimsy excuse – the flimsiest – for his failure to interact with us in any meaningful way.

Faith is the wishful thinking that despite the evidence, this neglectful, capricious God really does care for us. He cares so much he has devised an illogical, incomprehensible plan (or two) that, with its blood sacrifice and magical overtones, we must believe if we want his forgiveness for the way he made us in the first place.

We need to have faith that this cosmic madman will bring us back to life us after we’ve died and take us to Heaven to live with him, but we must first have the right sort of belief, even if it’s difficult to work out what that is. Faith is necessary for all of this because there isn’t a scrap of evidence anyone has ever been returned to life after they’ve died, or that Heaven exists, or that anyone has ever gone there. That’s why it takes, not trust, but a great wallop of wishful thinking that this fantasy is not only real but more real than the reality in front of us.

As for me, I can’t believe any of it.

  – I can’t believe the claims of those who even today say they’ve seen or heard from God or Jesus or Mary, who reckon they’ve had visions the same way Paul or Peter, Joseph Smith or Mary Baker Eddy did.

  – I don’t believe those who say they almost died and went to Heaven, because what these visions of fantasy figures and make-believe places have in common is that they take place, so far as they occur at all, entirely within people’s heads.

  – I won’t believe that those who say all of this magic, hallucination and mumbo-jumbo is true because it’s in the Bible, when the creators of that book were men far more ignorant and superstitious than any reasonably educated person today.

  – I am unable to believe muddled nonsense that is designed to appeal to our vanity and fear of obliteration.

  – And I really don’t care that some say they get comfort, joy and morality from their belief; their morality no more derives from God as mine does from Superman and emotions don’t make any of it true.

So, faith – what good is it? If your answer is it enables you to believe the impossible, then isn’t it just another word for delusion?

 

 

 

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Imagine… no religion

Jimenez2People say, like, you know, “Aren’t you sad that 50 superstitious nut-jobs died?” Here’s the problem with that. It’s like the equivalent of asking me, you know, what if you asked me, “Hey, are you sad that 50 Christians were killed today?” Um, no, I think that’s great! I think that helps society! You know, I think the world is a little safer tonight!…

The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die… because these people are predators! They are abusers! They take advantage of people! And look, as Rationalists, we need to take the stand that it is not our job to sit there and say, “Oh, this is a tragedy” or “Oh, this is something we mourn.” Look, everything tells us these are deluded, wicked people. These are evil people.

… People sometimes will say, “You guys are advocating violence!” We’re not advocating violence! We’re not saying we should go do this! But we’re just saying this: If we lived in a rational nation with a rational government, then the government should be taking them… I wish the government would round them all up, put them up against a firing wall, put a firing squad in front of them, and blow their brains out. If we lived under a truly secular government that loved rationality and loved children, and wanted to protect them, that’s what we’d do.

Hate speech? Certainly. But not mine. The original, which you can find here, is about the Orlando shootings a few weeks ago, and is directed at gay people. I’ve simply replaced gentle ‘Pastor’ Jimenez’s use of ‘sodomite’ and ‘paedophile’, which he disingenuously uses interchangeably, with ‘Christians’ and ‘religious nut-jobs’, and his use of ‘God’ and ‘righteous’ with ‘superstition’ and ‘rational’. Jimenez, emissary of a religion of love (Matthew 5.44 etc), would like to see his government exterminate LGBT people.

But, you know, maybe there’s also a case to be made for eliminating the superstitious and irrational from among us. Those of us who have adopted a rational basis for our lives would be happy to see the end of religion and superstition, the removal from the Earth of the religious and the superstitious (I use the terms interchangeably). After all, what do believers in mumbo-jumbo add to the world that is any way positive? What can those who are unable to engage with reality without the crutch of make-believe possibly have to give? On top of their general uselessness, they’re also dangerous and predatory.

Maybe there is a case to be made. But I’m not making it. Any philosophy, ideology or religion that preaches the extermination of other people is wrong, debased, corrupt (you’d think, wouldn’t you, that we’d have learnt that by now.) If you subscribe to such a view – be it from a Christian, Islamic or Jewish perspective – you are wrong. No-one, whatever magic books may say about them, merits death simply because those magic books say so (ratified, of course, by the dim-witted prejudices of those who subscribe to them). Rationality and a secular perspective, on the other hand, eschew hatred and are philosophically opposed to harming those who might not agree with them. Yes, even the religious.

In this way it is vastly superior to religion – your religion, whatever that happens to be.

Who wrote the Bible?

According to Christians, Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible; Genesis to Deuteronomy are widely known as ‘the books of Moses’. There is little evidence Moses had anything to do with them and plenty that he didn’t. The narrative, for example, is never once in the first person; it’s all ‘Moses ordered this slaughter, Moses ordered that slaughter’, never ‘I was the bastard who ordered all the genocide.’ Maybe he was embarrassed about it or – much more likely – it was written by someone else..

In fact, the books were compiled from a range of sources, including stories from other cultures. They reached the form in which we know them around 600-400BC, a mere eight hundred to a thousand years after Moses was supposed to have lived. The events and folk-heroes they describe are demonstrably mythical.

Moses2

Christians like to say that King David wrote many of the Psalms. While David’s name is attached to 73 of the 150, there is no reason to conclude he wrote them. It is more likely ‘of David’ serves as a dedication to a revered (and long dead) figure and may, indeed, have been added much later. The Psalms were actually created over an extended period of time – as much as five hundred years – by a wide range of unknown composers.DavidBelievers attribute much of the book of Proverbs to King Solomon, the fruit of David’s loins. Again, this is highly unlikely. The sayings are largely traditional and the attribution ‘is likely more concerned with labeling the material than ascribing authorship.’

Palin

Christians believe four blokes called Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote the New Testament’s gospels. They didn’t. The gospels were written anonymously and did not have the traditional names attached until a century or so after their composition. None is by an eye-witness. There is no evidence that the writer of Mark was a disciple of Peter’s, nor that ‘Luke’ was a companion of Paul’s (and even if he was, this wouldn’t make him an expert on the historical Jesus), nor that ‘John’ was a bona fide disciple. The fourth gospel was written between 90 and 110CE when the disciple would have had to be between 80 and 100 years old, or, much more likely given life-expectancy in the first century, dead. There are several hands at work in ‘John’, as the gospel itself concedes (John 21.24).

 Beatles

Christians insist that all of the letters attributed to Paul in the New Testament were written by him. However, despite the fact they say they’re by Paul, Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus are not; they are forgeries. They were composed long after Paul’s death, which occurred some time around 64CE. The earliest of the forgeries, Colossians, is thought to be circa 75CE, while the ‘pastoral’ letters to Timothy and Titus may be as late as 150CE. All of the forgeries contradict the ideas expressed in Paul’s genuine letters.

PaulPeter wrote the letters that carry his name, or so god-botherers claim, but according to the Bible itself, Peter was an illiterate Galilean fisherman (Acts 4.13). The Greek of the letters supposedly by him is accomplished and the theology well developed. Did Peter have time to learn Greek and polish its written form to perfection while busy preaching the gospel to all nations? Even if he did, how did he manage to write a letter (2 Peter) concerned with conditions in the church more than a century after his time with Jesus?

Anderson3

Jesus’ brothers James and Jude, we’re told, wrote the letters carrying their names. Again, they didn’t. The letter of James may have originated in the early Jerusalem church presided over by James the Just, but there’s no evidence this was Jesus’ brother. Jude is plagiarised from 2 Peter – word-for-word in places – which is itself a forgery. Would someone who knew Jesus as intimately as a brother need to steal what he had to say from an illegitimate source? Jude would have had to be well over a hundred years old to pull this one off.

Robertson2When all else fails – and it does – Christians fall back on that most implausible of last resorts, ‘the Holy Spirit’. The very breath of God, they insist, presided over the creation of the Bible from start to finish. If it did, it made a staggeringly bad job of it; misattribution, mistakes and forgeries are the hallmarks of ‘God’s precious Word’.doveAnd on this unstable foundation, this tissue of lies, rests the entire edifice that is Christianity.

(It is difficult to find online sources on the authorship of the Bible. Christians have taken over the Internet with innumerable sites insisting the Bible was written by whoever they say it was. I’ve had to fall back on Wikipedia here (the articles are pretty comprehensive) but if you don’t think it reliable enough, I recommend Bart D. Ehrman’s Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why The Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.)

 

Christianity: always winter but never Christmas

Spot the difference:Shore

Christians are hot on evidence.

There isn’t enough for evolution, they say, even though there’s an abundance.     

None, they claim, that the Earth is billions of years old, but only 6 thousand.

Not enough that climate change is man-made, when there’s considerable evidence it is.

None that there’s a genetic component to homosexuality when science reveals that there is.

But, as far as the resurrection of the body, judgement and eternal life in either Heaven or Hell are concerned, these they believe in, no evidence required.

I recently challenged Christians on Charisma magazine’s blog-site to provide or point me to evidence that any one of the 107 billion people who has ever lived who after they had died had gone on to enjoy either eternal life in Heaven or eternal punishment in Hell. Unfulfilled promises from magic books weren’t admissible, because a promise of something happening is not the same as it actually doing so. Jesus didn’t count either, as there are no eye-witness accounts of his bodily resurrection, only stories written decades after the supposed event. In any case he was half Vulcan or something, not an ordinary mortal.

Alas, my challenge went unanswered. You won’t find it on the Charisma site now because it has been removed by the moderator there. Expecting evidence from Christians for what they believe is patently unreasonable. After all, who needs evidence when you can exercise your licence to believe whatever you’re told?

Of course, there is no evidence of any resurrection nor of anyone who has gone on, post-mortem, to enjoy everlasting life. Have you noticed how everything about Christianity is either invisible – God, the Holy Spirit, Heaven, angels, demons – or lies permanently in the future; the Second Coming, the resurrection of the body, the Kingdom of God, judgement and eternal life? All of them always just that little bit further on. This year, next year, sometime, never. Just not now.

Yet Jesus, Paul, Revelation’s John and most other New Testament luminaries believed God’s Kingdom, the resurrection and judgement were coming within their own lifetimes.* Not one of them entertained the thought that 2000 years down the line none of these miraculous events would have materialised.

Small wonder then, that at the start of the second century, believers began to lose hope in the Second Coming, the Kingdom’s arrival and an earthly resurrection of the dead. Maybe, some of them began to think, eternal life would be not be here on Earth, as Jesus and Paul had promised, but in Heaven with God, which they most definitely hadn’t. This way, everything that hadn’t happened here on Earth would happen instead after death (we can see this transition taking place in the very late gospel of John). All of which was fortunate, because it dispensed with the need for confirmation and evidence; no-one could prove – apart from the fact nobody has ever survived their own extinction – that believers didn’t go to Heaven when they died. Equally, no-one could provide evidence they did.** How neat and convenient.

So if any Christians reading this would like to like to show us some evidence for the resurrection of the dead, post-mortem judgement, Heaven, Hell, God’s Kingdom on Earth – any of it – I’m sure we would all like to see it. Until then, I will go on regarding all of these assurances as empty promises – pie in the sky – that believers cling to desperately, while calling their desperation ‘faith’.

* See Matthew 16.27-28 & 24.27, 30-31, 34; Luke 21.27-28, 33-34; 1 Corinthians 15.51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4.15-17; 1 John 2:17-181; Peter 4.7; Revelation 1.1 & 21.2-4

** Psychics claim to commune with the dead of course, or at least with their spirits; more hokum from the minds of the deluded. Even if it weren’t, this isn’t the kind of resurrection Christians envisage for themselves. They dismiss psychics’ ‘evidence’ of life-after-death as so much demonic deception.

Some gospel truths

Jesus&Roman

Imagine a new book is discovered that claims to answer all of our questions about life, promises hope for the future and provides remarkable insights into the nature of reality. You’d be interested, right? It wouldn’t even bother you that the book was the result of a series of hallucinations its writers claim to have had.

You don’t need to imagine this book because it already exists. It answers essential questions that we all have at some point like whether is life after death, and what’s waiting for us on the other side; what is the purpose of life, and how can we find happiness and peace now? Does God know us personally and hear our prayers? How can we avoid sin and learn to truly split infinitives repent. It’s called (wait for it) The Book Of Mormon and it purports to answer all the deep questions I’ve just mentioned – I know it does because I’ve just lifted them from mormon.org – and it is the result of the visions a ‘prophet’ called Joseph Smith had of one of the Lord’s angels back in the 1820s.

What? You don’t believe it? Why not? It’s the result of divine revelation and it answers all the questions you have – we are all supposed to have – about the meaning of life.

I’m guessing you don’t believe it because Joseph Smith has the reputation of being a bit of a fraud. His visions are implausible and inconsistently reported, while the book itself is fanciful and feels, well, fabricated; Jesus’ adventures in America after his resurrection just seem so made up.

No, I’m with you on this one, as is 99.93% of the Earth’s population. They don’t believe the Book Of Mormon either.

So how about a different book, a much older one? It too is said to answer all the serious questions about life and is also the result of visions and revelations. Okay, maybe it’s inconsistent, contradictory and fanciful. Maybe its more than a little improbable in places, but this book is different. Truly, it is. Everything in it, though  written, misremembered and altered by human beings is the very word of God; it says so itself so it must be true, and 2.2 billion people in the world can’t be wrong.

Or can they? Why is it that a book that relies even more than the Book of Mormon does  on innervisions and ‘revelations’ – the Bible – is held in such high esteem by so many? The New Testament alone records over twenty such hallucinations*, including the entirity of its final book. Some of these visions – those of the Risen Christ – serve as the foundation for the entire belief system.

Why are these ‘revelations’ regarded, by Christians at least, as real and trustworthy when those of the Book Of Mormon, the Qu’ran, the Vedas, and all those other ‘holy’ texts that owe their existence to hallucinations, are not? There is no substantive difference between them; no difference between one group of religious fanatics’ visions and those of all the other groups. None are demonstrably divine and all are essentially the same. That the Bible is older than the Book Of Mormon does not lend it more credence or affirm its ‘holy’ status. On the contrary, its production in a more credulous, pre-scientific era gives it less credibility, not more, and supplies greater reason not to sanctify or revere it.

So, Christians, what distinguishes the revelations of the Bible from those found in other ‘holy’ books? What makes its visions viable and real when the others, apparently, are not? What makes the Bible right and those wrong? It cannot be because the Bible says it’s inspired by God (in a letter known to be a forgery) because the others claim the same thing. Why are you prepared to base your lives on one set of ancient hallucinatory experiences but dismiss all the others? Why don’t you subscribe to all the books that claim divine providence? Doesn’t Pascal’s wager demand that you at least hedge your bets and embrace them all, just in case?

News just in: Neither Jesus nor Paul nor the disciples nor the gospel writers nor the Bible’s forgers nor the churches mentioned in it nor the early ‘Church Fathers’ ever read the Bible. They didn’t know of its existence, living 300 years before it was finally put together. They didn’t even envisage its creation, believing the world was going to end in their own lifetimes.

*The visions recorded in the New Testament include 10 separate ‘sightings’ of the risen Christ in the gospels and Acts; the Transfiguration (Mark 9.2-8 etc); Paul’s conversion alluded to in Galatians 1.11-12 and 1 Corinthians 9.1 & 15.45 and recounted, with contradictory details, three times in Acts; Paul’s vision – in or out of his body, he’s not sure – of ‘the Third Heaven’ (2 Corinthians 12.1-6); Stephen’s vision of Christ at the right hand of God (Acts 7.56); Peter’s ‘trance’ in which he sees a giant table cover (Acts 10.9-16); Paul and Barnabas’ visit from an angel (Acts 5.19-20); 5 other reports of visions in Acts (9.12; 16.9; 18.9-10; 22.17-20; 27.23-24) and the entire book of Revelation that relates the many hallucinations of a very disturbed mind. And then there are all the other sightings of angels and the dreams through which God is said to communicate with various nut-jobs people. I ask you – dreams!

Now make up a story about it

Bible4

So there we have it. The accounts of Jesus’ resurrection all derive from imagined sightings of him post-mortem. Call them hallucinations, visions or revelations, none of them were encounters with a real, revived physical being.

Except that’s not quite it, because it’s worse than that, Jim.

Most of our accounts of the resurrection appearances are fifty years or more too late. Paul’s is the only first hand account we have and even that is sketchy and recounted several years after it happened. For at least three of those years, Paul meditated on his seizure and interpreted it as a revelation from the Lord. Undoubtedly, others had similar experiences; the stories of the resurrected Christ came from somewhere and the resurrection seems to have been central to Christian faith from its earliest days. Paul cites in 1 Corinthians 15:4-8 those he says have encountered the risen Christ:

He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

Paul implies here that his own experience is the same as that of the others on his list; they too, then, had visions of the risen Christ within their imaginations. Significantly, Paul omits Mary Magdalene, the first to ‘see’ the post-mortem Jesus according to the later gospels, while some of the other encounters Paul claims to know about do not find their way into those accounts. Of those that do, we can be confident the details are wrong. They were most certainly not as they are described in the stories that eventually came to be written.

The earliest copies of Mark’s gospel famously have no resurrection appearances. The women discover the empty tomb, which Matthew and Luke later lift into their gospels, and, bizarrely, decide not to tell the disciples about it. By the time we get to last canonical gospel, written some thirty years down the line, its author embellishes Luke’s attempts to suggest that the risen Jesus has some physicality; he allows his old friends, especially Thomas, to poke around in his wounds and he eats fish. Nonetheless, as in the earlier gospels, the disciples all have trouble recognising him, even on a third occasion, and are afraid to ask him who he is (John 21.12). Did his followers simply experience, as John 14.15-20 and Matthew 18.20 seem to suggest, an intense sense of Jesus’ presence? This would make the reports of actual sightings evidence of later believers’ need for something more substantial than flashing lights and fuzzy feelings. Which is how, over time, surrounding detail came to be added.

In their specifics, the resurrection appearances in the gospels and Acts are stories that accrued around the visions and inner traumas experienced by Jesus’ friends and other zealots. As such they are fiction; the angels at the tomb – probably the empty tomb itself – the encounter on the road to Emmaus, the fish breakfast and the rest. Bart D. Ehrman demonstrates convincingly in Jesus Before The Gospels, that the oral tradition was not capable of transmitting the details of Jesus’ life and ministry accurately over a 40 year period (when Mark’s gospel was written). The same is true, perhaps moreso, of individuals’ idiosyncratic inner experiences. Over 50+ years, after which Matthew and Luke’s gospels were composed, reports of these visions would have been altered innumerable times by those relating them, ever onwards and outwards; details would inevitably have been changed, added, removed and invented in a protracted game of Chinese whispers. In all probability the gospel writers themselves introduced their own embellishments.

So then, from a small number of visions/hallucinations/feelings, via significantly altered accounts of these same subjective experiences, together with others that are pure invention, to the eventual recording of such stories 50 to 80 years later, this is the evolution of the fantasy that is the risen Christ.

Believing is Seeing

Fish

Have you noticed how the risen Jesus seems only to have appeared to those who were already primed to see him? Of course, the accounts of the resurrection are inconsistent, unreliable and constructed long after the supposed event, but just for now, let’s take them at face value. Jesus appears first, according to Matthew, Luke and John, to his female followers – maybe one on her own (in John), maybe two (Matthew), maybe several (Luke) – but to women who would be mourning him and would be longing to see him again. And lo and behold, they do! He’s not quite substantial and not quite recognisable – every bit the hallucination, in fact – but he appears.

Next he is said to have shown himself to the disciples – maybe one (Luke), maybe two (Luke again), maybe several (Matthew) – men who have been thrown into complete disarray by Jesus’ death but who believed in him and his mission to inaugurate the Kingdom of God, and were looking forward to ruling it with him. So naturally they see him in their midst. Never mind he walks through walls and disappears at will, just like an apparition – he appears! As Acts 1.3 puts it, ‘he presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs’.

Wait – ‘by many proofs’? What does that mean? That he had to prove he’d come back to life? Could they not see that for themselves? Couldn’t they recognise the man with whom they’d spent the last three years? Or if they could, weren’t they convinced he’d returned from the dead so that he felt he had to prove it? How? How did he prove it? With a death certificate? By letting them poke his holes? And this took forty days? Isn’t it more likely they were subject to group hysteria and some sort of hallucination (they’d had hallucinations before – see Matthew 17:1-9) and they then had to convince each other that what they’d experienced was really Jesus? No wonder it took forty days to concoct a ‘plausible’ story, to arrive at ‘the many proofs’ that Acts speaks of. Whichever it was, Jesus’ gullible old pals convinced themselves they’d seen him.

During these same forty days – though in his gospel Luke implies it’s a much shorter time (24.40-53) – Jesus fits in a guest appearance at a rock concert in front of 500 believers – believers, note. Not people who were converted as a result of this miraculous appearance, but people who were already part of the Jesus cult when they experienced this vision. Or so Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15.3-8. He wasn’t actually there, but he heard about it from a friend of a friend of a friend so it must be true.

And finally he appeared also to Paul himself (1 Corinthians 15.5). Not as a physical body but as a beam of light in Paul’s head. I’m not getting into how this was, as Paul himself admits, no more than an inner vision (he too is prone to hallucinations – see also Acts 16:9-10 and 2 Corinthians 12.1-7) because you can read about that here. Rather, I’m going to argue that Paul, arch-enemy to this point of all things to do with the Jesus cult, is just as primed for a sighting of the Lord as all those other people who think they saw him… next time.

to be continued.