Recent Encounters of the Religious Kind

2. Maria and the Evil One

devil

Maria comes to the door again. She’s very personable but wasting away her life as a Jehovah’s Witness. She wonders if I’ve read the leaflet she left last time. I have, and have filled in the answers to its questions, including, ‘does the Bible have the answers to life’s big questions?’ Maria doesn’t seem very happy about my answer.

She insists on showing me a video on her iPad. It is slick and includes some clever CGI. She tells me afterwards that the ‘Evil One’ is in control of this world which is why it is in such a mess. I tell her that any mess is our own doing, we humans. She asks if I know the Bible; I say I do. She tells me that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the only ones who interpret it correctly. It doesn’t, she says, tell us that believers will go to heaven when they die (she’s right about this; it doesn’t). It promises rather that Jesus will be coming back to set up God’s Kingdom on Earth (right again). Except, I remind her, it has him promise that he will return within the lifetime of those listening to him, the Kingdom scheduled to appear within his own generation (Matthew 16:27-28; Matthew 24:27, 30-31, 34; Luke 21:27-28, 33-34). Maria concedes the point and then tries to say a generation is longer than we think. Maybe so, I say, but not 2,000 years.

Maria says she learnt something about this problem in a class recently. She appeals to her confederate for help, but he can’t remember what the elders said either. She decides now retreat is the better part of proselytising but promises to return once she has the answer.

But there is no answer; at least not one that sees Jesus’ megalomanic fantasies realised two millennia in his future.

I feel certain that, unlike Jesus, Maria will be back soon.

 

 

 

There’s good news and there’s good news…

Bat-Jesus

Mark, Matthew and Luke all tells us that Jesus preached the gospel when he was alive (Mark 1.14-15; Matthew 4.23, 9.35 & 10.5-7; Luke 20.1). So what was this gospel? What was Jesus’ ‘good news’? He had yet to die so it couldn’t possibly have been ‘you can be saved through my death and resurrection’ because this magic formula had yet to be arrived at by those who came later. Nor could it have been ‘accept my substitutionary atonement whereby I take the punishment you deserve in order to restore your relationship with God,’ for much the same reason. Nor could it have been, ‘you must accept me as your personal your saviour if you want to gain everlasting life in Heaven,’ because he didn’t regard himself in this way and he didn’t, according to the synoptic gospels, offer an eternity in Heaven. No, Jesus’ good news could not have been any of these because they are all later developments, mumbo-jumbo invented about him by others, not things he said himself .

Actually we needn’t speculate on what the good news was that Jesus preached because the gospels tell us: God was going to intervene in history very soon, rescuing his people from Gentile rule and setting up his Kingdom, in which he, Jesus, would be judge and king (Matt 24.27-34 & 25.31; Luke 1.33; 21.25-28). People, he said, referring only to Jewish people, should prepare themselves for this coming Kingdom by mending their ways (Matthew 10.5-6).

How soon would all this happen? In the lifetime of his hearers according to Mark 9.1, Matthew 16.28 and Luke 9.27, maybe even within a few weeks or months. When sending out the disciples to spread his good news he promised them, ‘you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel, before the Son of man comes (to usher in the new Kingdom)’ (Matthew 10.23). We can only assume that the disciples are back by now – in fact they return a few verses later – yet the Son of man still hasn’t materialised among the clouds in full view of ‘the tribes’ of the Earth (Matthew 24.30).

As the Bible records, Jesus was wrong in every respect; God did not set up his new Kingdom within the lifetime of those Jesus spoke to; the Son of man did not appear; the Romans were not overthrown; Jesus was not appointed judge and king of the world. The sarcastic inscription on his cross, ‘King of the Jews’, was the closest he came to having his self-aggrandising prophecy realised.

Is this the Jesus that Christians worshipped subsequently and still worship today? It ought to be as he’s the one revealed in the first three gospels. But the Jesus believers carry around in their heads is not this man. The ‘Jesus’ worshipped by Christians is primarily a construct of Paul’s – his ‘Christ’ – and their own collective imaginations. The mythical ‘Christ’ that Paul ‘did not receive from any man’, has replaced and almost obliterated Yeshua and his mistaken beliefs about the coming Kingdom (though Paul held on to the idea that it was indeed imminent; see 1 Thessalonians 4.15-17).

Admittedly ‘the Christ’ has had a far better shelf-life than Yeshua could ever have had on his own; the continual resurrection of the idea in the minds of believers – and only there – has ensured the perpetuation of the myth. When all is said and done, however, the Christ is nothing more than an imaginative recreation of a failed zealot with an altogether different gospel.* Yeshua’s good news of the Kingdom died shortly after he did and like him has stayed dead, its echoes preserved by Mark, Matthew and Luke and ignored by Christians everywhere.

* I’m aware there is a body of thought that gives primacy to the mythical god-man, ‘the Christ’, with the Jesus stories being seen as a later ‘in-fill’ designed to provide him with a plausible back-story. I’m not convined of this for several reasons, which I’ll explore at a later date.

What Does Atheism Have To Offer? (Part One)

Station-12-ArtistOver the next few posts I’m going to do my best to answer the question, ‘what does atheism have to offer?’ that a commenter on Facebook has put to me – that’d be you, Dave – because, he says, I’m too sneery about Christianity. Some of my response will of necessity be personal in nature, and you can take or leave whatever I say; you won’t go to hell if you disagree (or heaven either.)

1. Atheism offers the truth
Christianity wasn’t delivering; it didn’t ring true for me any more and lacked explanatory power. As a result, a need to know the truth of why we’re here and what life is about preceded my atheism. I set about examining the facts of our existence as we know them, together with all the evidence. I became committed to this pursuit regardless of where it might lead. I didn’t, initially, confine my questioning and subsequent reading only to secular or scientific sources, but continued to explore religious and spiritual explanations of life as well. These quickly paled in comparison with empirical evidence; they were vapid and unsubstantiated, relying as they did on talk about ‘energies’ and entities that no-one had ever seen and for which there was no evidence.

Drawn increasingly to scientific explanations of life – biology, genetics, psychology, astronomy – I became increasingly aware that God wasn’t and isn’t required to explain anything about life, the natural world, the universe or indeed anything. Natural phenomena (and they’re all natural phenomena) have, on the principle of Occam’s razor, natural, not super-natural, explanations. The only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from this was that he wasn’t and isn’t involved in any of them. His very superfluity demonstrates his non-existence; a god who is not evident in any aspect of reality is a god that doesn’t exist. This pursuit of truth therefore led to atheism as something honest and inherently truthful.

2. Atheism offers a real life in the here and now
Living without recourse to the supernatural is refreshing. There is no god (no angels, devils, spirits, ghosts or demons either) watching over us, waiting for an opportunity to punish or bless us; no god whom we are answerable to either in the present or at some future judgement; no god of vengeance who must be obeyed; no god who will vindicate us at the end of time; no god to grant us eternal life; no set of frequently bizarre rules to follow and no empty promises to claim. Atheists take full responsibility for their own lives and behaviour; they construct their own meaning, knowing this life is the only one they’ll get. Atheism alone grants this responsibility and privilege.

3. Atheism offers a humanist perspective and approach to life
This is not the End Times™ as salaciously envisaged by Christians ancient and modern, just as the first century wasn’t – even though Jesus and Paul both thought it was (Matt 16:27-28; 1 Thess 4.15-17 etc.) The atheist accepts that the only help we’re going to get in solving our problems is from ourselves. There is no god waiting in the wings to put things right; no end time scenario when he will come to rescue a chosen people. (This is, incidentally, one of the most pernicious ideas ever to have been devised by humankind, causing more strife and ‘excusing’ more inhumane treatment of others than any other we’ve devised.)

Apart from natural disasters – and we seem to be contributing increasingly to those – the cause of all of our problems is us. Equally, the solutions will have to come from us too. More positively, all of our endeavours, our achievements, our scientific, technological and social progress are ours alone too. We have the potential to do great good, and often do, just as we cause great harm. Free of religious restrictions, the atheist is at liberty to help others out of fellow-feeling, not because a (non-existent) god demands it.

to be continued…

Peace Off

angels

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. Luke 2.14 as rendered by the King James Bible.

Whatever happened to that peace? There hasn’t been peace on earth ever since the angels were made to herald Christ’s birth with these words. Some of that absence of peace – the conflicts and wars – has been the result of religion, including that of Jesus himself. Then again, he did contradict the angels when he said he hadn’t come to bring peace but a sword and for once, he was right (Matthew 10.34). So what can the angels have meant? More to the point, what can those who created these words to put in the mouths of non-existent beings have been thinking? Is their declaration a promise? A prophecy? Something to look good on Christmas cards?

Other translations of Luke 2.14 avoid the whole peace on earth shtick by watering down the statement: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests’ reads the NIV. Now only those whom God ‘favours’ are granted peace, which presumably means only Christians, and it’s now a vague sense of well-being (complacency? smugness?) that isn’t of much use to the world at large. Certainly other New Testament writers, the creators of John’s gospel and the letter to the Ephesians for example, interpret ‘peace’ in this very limited way.

And yet, in Isaiah, in verses applied to Jesus (especially at this time of year; they were read out in the carol service I attended last night) we find him descibed like this:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9.6)

Apart from the fact this is a specifically Jewish prophecy that has nothing to do with Jesus – which is why most of the titles don’t really apply to him (nobody has ever called him ‘Wonderful Counselor’ or ‘Everlasting Father’) – there again is the idea that he’s somehow connected with capital-letter Peace. He’s a Prince of it, no less.

But wait – there’s more:

Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. (9.7)

Of course; it’s all end time stuff! We should’ve guessed. Long term peace on the Earth, predicted by the angels and, ostensibly, by Isaiah is going to be in the future, after Jesus returns to establish God’s Kingdom on earth.

Have you noticed how it’s always in the future? Everything Christianity offers is going to happen later: heaven, eternal life, the second coming, the rapture, resurrection, God’s Kingdom, the lion lying down with the lamb, the end of war, everlasting peace. Not in Jesus’ own time as he thought; not in Paul’s, not in the gospel writers’, not any time since, but always just around the corner, any time now, soon. Never in the here and now. Peace on Earth, like all those other promises, is always just out of reach, like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – the closer you think you might be to it, the further it moves away.

A friend added one of those clever posters to Facebook recently. It said, amongst other things, that it wasn’t okay to ‘shame’ religion. I couldn’t disagree more. Scams must be debunked and the sham of religion’s empty promises held up to the light of reality. None of the things that the Bible says will happen is going to; not now, nor in an ever-elusive future.

A happy and peaceful Christmas to both my readers.

Human Sacrifice

Swanson

Mesoamerican cultures would ritually kill other human beings to appease their gods. Thousands were sacrificed either willingly or under compulsion.

Thank goodness we have progressed beyond this. We no longer allow superstition to dictate that others should be deprived of their lives to curb gods’ anger and bless us instead.

Unless we’re Christians like pastor Kevin Swanson, pastor Phillip Kayser, Ted Shoebat (loony name, loony guy!) and pastor Rob Gallaty, who call for the execution of LGBT people. It’s gay people, they say, who are bringing down’s God’s wrath on the world because of their wicked ways. Judgement, destruction and death shall surely befall us – or America, anyway, as that’s the only place God has any interest in – because of the gay peril. Unless homosexuals repent, they must be put to death. Only then is God likely to back off.

And just in case you think I might be misrepresenting them, here are those loving, gentle Christian folk to tell you all about it in their own words:

Swanson:

Homosexuals are worthy of death… It’s not so much an issue of the death penalty. It’s an issue of God’s judgement that’s hanging upon this nation today.

This, Swanson says, is ‘the gospel of Jesus Christ’ of which he is not ashamed.

Kayser:

And if we love our country and we don’t want to see God’s intense wrath falling upon it, we cannot ignore the abominations found in the radical LGBTQ movement. It is not just the sinfulness of homosexuality that is known, but also the justice of the death penalty for homosexuality.

In fairness, Kayser also wants the death penalty for breaking the Sabbath, blasphemy and cursing God publicly, publicly sacrificing to other gods and apostasy. He’s nothing if not fair-minded.

Shoebat:

The sodomite, the atheist, the fanatic feminist, the Muslim — all such must be deemed as criminals and enemies to civilization, for they war against the Faith, promote death and hate life…
They should be told to leave their wicked ways under coercion, and if that does not work, then death and strong suppression is the only solution.

Gallaty:

God said that the sins of the people had infected the very land in which they live. So what happens to people who engage in this activity, this sexual immoral activity? Go to Leviticus 20, God gives us the punishment for engaging in these sins… ‘If a man sleeps with a man as with a woman, they have both committed a detestable thing. They must be put to death. And their blood is on their own hands.’

These enlightened men, and others, advocate a return to primitive, barbaric practices like that of the Aztec and Mayan cultures that sacrificed humans to imaginary gods. They have much in common with ISIS and the Taliban too, who are also motivated by religion to murder others. Perhaps we haven’t made as much progress as we like to think.

With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

Steven Weinberg

Loose Threads

FamilyPick a thread. Any thread. And start pulling. Gently does it, no need for force. A gentle pull on any of the loose ends of faith and the whole fabric will come apart quickly.

Here, pull on this one marked ‘the infallibility of the Bible‘. See how easily it comes loose as soon as you realise that most of it, Old and New Testament alike, was written long after the events it purports to describe, some of it by imposters and forgers.

Or this one – the salvation thread, much of it stitched into place by an excitable chap prone to hallucinations. Pull it and see how its pattern is nothing like the one proposed by the man it claims to be about.

Pull the magic threads, the ones about Gods, supernatural beings, heaven and hell, eternal life. Watch them disintegrate in your fingers once they’re teased out into the real world.

Take hold of the threads about Resurrections, Second Comings, Raptures and Judgements; so fragile, these break away as soon as they’re touched. The only miracle is that they’ve lasted this long.

Then there’s the promises threads, about how believers are going to do fantastic miracles and heal the sick and raise the dead. Imaginative and colourful, these have never really fitted in.

Then there’s the prayer threads, whose embroidery tells us how prayer works, how God will give us whatever we ask for. Downright embarrassing, these – yank ’em out.

And how about the strands that those who say they love the cloth pick out themselves and throw away? You know the ones; the threads which tell them how to live their lives that they just don’t like the look of and think spoil the overall effect. These have definitely got to go.

What about the threads that weren’t originally there – the ones about ‘defending God’s standards‘ and having a ‘relationship‘ with a dead person? These grubby, greasy threads have been added in to replace the ones those who love the cloth have pulled out for themselves.

Choose any number of other threads – the ones that clash with other bits of the pattern, the ugly brutal ones, the fantastic, the ignorant – and give them a tug. Oh, look. They come away too.

And before you know it, the entire fabric has come apart in your hands. All that’s left is a pile of worthless, brittle threads, good for nothing but throwing in the bin.

The Late Great Planet Earth

burning_earth1The scene yesterday as the Earth finally came to an end.

 

Today is an illusion. You are not really here. Yesterday, the world ended, destroyed with the fire predicted in 2 Peter 3. The Lord finally had enough and set fire to the Earth and obliterated it.

So how was it for you?

And here we are today, the day after it all ended. Doesn’t it seem remarkably like it was before the terrible events of yesterday?

As ever, God mispoke to his trusted servants who took the time to tell us of our impending doom.

Never mind. Let’s set another date. Oh wait – we already have. Plenty to choose from here. You can’t have too many ends-of-the-world, can you?