On being free

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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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Making Excuses for Jesus

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Excuse 3. When Jesus said ‘Kingdom of God’ what he really meant was ‘heaven’.

According to many Christians, the Kingdom of God is a supernatural realm where those whom Jesus has redeemed are going to go when they die. This kingdom is not, despite what Jesus said, coming to the Earth; believers are going to it, and it’s called heaven.

This is probably the most prominent view among Christians today and it couldn’t be more wrong. As we’ve established, Jesus says repeatedly and consistently that the Kingdom is coming here, to the earth. As well as all of his assurances (cited in earlier posts), he taught his followers to pray to God that ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven’ (Matt 6.10), a petition Christians affirm whenever they repeat ‘the Lord’s prayer’.

Nowhere does Jesus promise his followers that they will spend eternity in heaven with God. Neither does Paul, nor any of the New Testament writers. Heaven, according to the bible, is God’s abode beyond the clouds; it is not a theme park open for visitors or long term guests. True, Paul believed that deceased souls would enter the presence of Christ to be kept safe until the Kingdom’s arrival, at which point they would be housed in new, spiritual bodies (1 Corinthians 15:35-58; 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18). These new bodies would not be for life in heaven, however, but for a resurrected existence here on earth, once the Kingdom had been established.

Amazingly, Paul expected people to believe this appalling drivel. Later Christians evidently couldn’t, and so invented the idea that they would be going to Heaven permanently post-mortem. John 14.3, which makes Jesus say he’s going to prepare a place for his disciples ‘in his father’s house’, might be an early sign of this wishful thinking. On the other hand it might mean something else altogether – as usual Jesus is made to speak in obtuse riddles.

Whichever it is, Christians are not promised an existence in heaven when they die. The only offer is of a place in God’s Kingdom on Earth, which both Jesus and Paul thought was coming very soon.

 

Excuse 4. When Jesus said ‘Kingdom of God’ what he really meant was ‘an internal kingdom of the heart’.

The Kingdom of God, then, must be, as a commenter on Answers in Genesis recently assured me, ‘an internal kingdom of the heart’. But you’d be hard pushed to find this bit of fluff in the bible. The closest it comes to saying any such thing is in Luke 17.20-21 where Jesus announces that the Kingdom of God is ‘entos hymon,’ a phrase sometimes rendered as ‘within you’ but which is more accurately translated ‘among you’. It is not an assurance that the Kingdom of God is some sort of silopsistic comfort blanket for believers in the far-flung future. It is yet more evidence that Jesus (or his script-writers) regarded the Kingdom as imminent in his and their own immediate context: first century Palestine. 

That’s four excuses – four explanations that what Jesus really meant was what today’s Christians want him to have meant. It’s tough facing up to the reality that God’s Son – God himself according to some Christians – was so mistaken, so disastrously wrong. But he was.

So naturally, more excuses are needed…

 

The Eye-witness Fallacy

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The falsehood that the gospels are in some way eye-witness reports just won’t go away. There is no evidence they are or even that they are based on reports by eye-witnesses. Scholars speak of ‘sources’ for all elements of the gospels (Mark, Q, M & L); these were almost certainly pre-existing written and oral traditions from before the gospels’ creation.

This really is problematic for those propagating the idea that the gospels are eye-witness accounts. If they were even so much as based on eye-witness reports, then why would they need to rely so heavily on other traditions? If, as is claimed here, the scattered gospel communities who wrote them were in some sort of immediate contact with the fanned-out eye-witnesses, then they would have no need to use sources and traditions from elsewhere. Yet they do; Matthew and Luke borrow extensively from a shared source (Q) and also from Mark, particularly for their resurrection stories.

This is akin to someone today interviewing witnesses to John F. Kennedy’s assassination, – a similar interval to that between Jesus and the gospels of Matthew, Luke and John – and then, before publication, replacing what the eye-witnesses say they saw with the more far-fetched elements of Oliver Stone’s movie JFK. If there were eye-witnesses to hand, there wouldn’t be any need to do this. It doesn’t make the slightest sense that the gospel writers would do so. Yet they do.

As far as the stories of the resurrection are concerned, it is much more likely they are based, not on any eye-witness accounts, but on the scant mentions of the mystical, risen Christ of the kind we find in Paul’s letters, filtered, primarily, through Mark. As such, they are a fleshing out (almost literally) of hearsay reports of a limited number of visions that, by the time the gospels came to be written, had embedded themselves in the traditions of the early church.

Have Faith

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So there we were in court. First time I’d been on a jury. Pretty serious case too. If it went against the defendant, he’d be facing the death penalty. So I suppose it was pretty serious for him too.

First up was the arresting officer. ‘Oh, yes,’ he said. ‘I have every faith this guy’s the culprit.’

‘How much faith?’ said the judge. ‘Is it real, deep-down, sincere faith?’

‘Oh, yes,’ said the cop. ‘Really unshakeable, supernatural faith. That’s him okay. We’re not looking for anyone else. Genuine conviction, you see.’

‘Yes, I do see,’ the judge said. ‘And very commendable it is too.’

‘But…’ spluttered the guy in the dock.

‘Wait your turn,’ the judge snapped. ‘We gotta hear the expert testimony before we get to you.’

The expert took the stand. ‘I believe it was this guy,’ he said, pointing to the man in the dock. ‘Yes sir, I’m sure it was. I have a really good feeling about it. This is him, definitely.’

‘You really, really truly believe?’ the judge asked and the expert nodded. ‘Well, that’s good enough for me,’ the judge said. ‘So… anybody got anything to add before I pass sentence?’

‘Er, yeah,’ said he guy in the dock. ‘What about the evidence?’

‘The evidence?’ said the judge. ‘Who needs evidence when we’ve got all this belief, faith and deeply held conviction?’

‘Well,’ the guy said, ‘far be it from me to say so, but isn’t the evidence important?’

‘Important?’ snorted the judge, resulting in guffaws all around the courtroom, including from my fellow jurors.

‘Yes,’ said the accused. ‘Important evidence like my watertight alibi. Like the DNA and finger prints that weren’t mine. Like the CCTV footage. Like… that other guy’s confession.’

‘Oh, come on,’ said his defence lawyer jumping up. ‘We’ve been over this. It means nothing. What’s really important is what people believe. Faith, like the officer here said.’

‘Well,’ said the guy in the dock, ‘I have my doubts about that.’

‘Oh, but doubt is of the devil,’ said his lawyer, ‘It’s faith that matters – faith and right belief.’

‘That hardly seems reasonable to me,’ said the man. ‘After all, it’s my life that’s on the line here.’

‘Now you’re just being absurd,’ said the judge. ‘What has reason got to do with anything?’

‘But I thought…’ began the accused, looking more perplexed than ever.

‘We’re none of us here to think,’ said the judge, ‘least of all you. How many more times must we tell you? Faith is all that matters.’

‘Well,’ said the defendant doubtfully, ‘if you say so…’

‘Great!’ said the judge, jumping in quickly. ‘I’m glad you’ve finally seen the light.’ Then he turned to us, the jury, and said: ‘I’m going to direct you to find the defendant guilty. The belief and faith of those here today is all we need to convict him.’

So we did, and the judge passed the death sentence. The condemned guy didn’t seem too pleased and as they led him away, started yammering all over again about evidence. I guess some people never learn. But I mean, faith, belief, conviction – call ’em what you will – they trump evidence any day.

It’s Only Make Believe

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All you have to do to become a Christian/be saved from sin/gain eternal life is to accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.

Except, it isn’t.

You’ve also to put your faith in the Bible, acknowledging it’s God’s word in some form or other. It would be impossible to be a Christian without it; you’re required  to read it, let the Holy Spirit or one of God’s chosen instruments here on Earth interpret it for you and you’ve to live by it.

And this, in turn, entails believing in the menagerie of supernatural creatures and invisible realms the Bible assumes exist. Angels and demons we considered last time, and then there’s –

The Risen Christ who sits at the hand of the Father. He sits? He’s like a real body, but at the same time not a real body? A spiritual body, then, who metaphorically ‘sits’ next to –

God the Father, whom no human has ever seen (confirmed by John 1.18 but contradicted by Genesis 32.20) who abides in –

Heaven, a place no-one has ever seen. No, really, no-one. Not even those people who have hallucinated about being there. Hallucinations, dreams, visions, even so-called out of body experiences, are not evidence Heaven exists. They’re evidence that people sometimes hallucinate, dream and have visions and out of body experiences. The same is true of ‘sightings’ of God himself and of –

The Holy Spirit. That’s the part of God Christians dupe themselves into thinking has moved in inside them to guide them through their Christian life. That’s the same Holy Spirit who’s guided God’s Chosen to create 34,000 different distinct interpretations of the Truth. Even now, the Spirit is leading church after church down the road of apostasy, according to those he also leads to condemn them. Confused yet? It all makes sense if you recognise that it’s all imaginary, created by human beings who didn’t and don’t know any better. Like –

Satan is. He’s the character who evolves during the course of Bible until he’s a cross between Lex Luthor and the Joker; God’s arch-enemy. He only ‘exists’ to get God off the hook. All the bad in the word can’t be God’s fault now, can it? Somebody’s got to carry the can and it sure isn’t YHWH. So Satan, the devil, gets to be the embodiment of evil. Which isn’t to say evil doesn’t exist because it does, but it’s not caused by this third-rate Dick Dastardly. Nor is –

The Anti-Christ. This is the guy Christians believe will appear at the end of the age, some time around AD 100 according to Revelation 14.9-10. Never mind his creator there calls him something else entirely (‘the Beast’ as it happens); unless he’s finally arrived in the shape of Donald J. Trump, he’s no more real than –

Those who’ve died (‘the saints’ according to Catholics) and have been given new, magic bodies in Heaven or –

Those who’ve died and have gone to Hell to be tortured forever. That’s because –

Hell doesn’t exist either.

Nor do seraphim (Isaiah 6.2), cherubim (Hebrews 9.5), dragons (Psalm 148.7), satyrs (Isaiah 13.21) or unicorns (Numbers 23.22 etc) .

How do we know these beings, places and states don’t exist? Well, they’re all invisible, intangible, undetectable, unverifiable, supernatural (literally, ‘outside nature’), and, ultimately, unconvincing. They’re rejects from far more interesting mythologies that abounded in the ancient world. Today’s mythologies – of Middle Earth, Game of Thrones and the innumerable virtual worlds of computer games – are far more plausible (and even then, not very).

The supernatural doesn’t exist; everything we know is part of a physical universe. There is no evidence anything exists outside, alongside or in addition to that universe. (Though if you think there is evidence for the supernatural – and I mean evidence, not ‘feelings’, personal experiences or ancient texts – then please make it known in the comments).

There is an abundance of evidence, however, that –

Human beings are rather good at inventing stories and mythologies;

Their psychology inclines them to inner imaginings;

They are largely irrational and with a tendency to attribute agency to inanimate objects, phenomena and the chimera of their own imagining;

They have a fear of death and their own personal extinction.

How could religion, with all of its make-believe, not fail to materialise under such conditions? And how can anyone in this day and age take it seriously, knowing what we do now?

I know I can’t.

New series: Christians’ favourite delusions!

Number 1. My version of Christianity is the only true version

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It’s very easy for the believer to convince himself that his particular set of beliefs is the Absolute Truth and that this Truth needs defending from the ‘man-centred’ philosophies and heresies that threaten his false security. He is compelled to declare to the ever-contracting walls of his make-shift reality, ‘there’s only one Truth: mine!’

There are 34,000 different, distinct churches, groups and sects within Christianity, all claiming that they alone possess the absolute Truth. Their insistence that only their doctrines are based on ‘inerrant’ scripture demonstrates just how imprecise and wide-open to interpretation ‘God’s Word’ is. Take a look at Possessing The Treasure, Apprising Ministries and Slaughter Of The Sheep for a flavour of the delicious in-fighting. And don’t forget the Westboro Baptist Church, whose repellant views I’ve added to the picture above. These are, according to the church’s website, all Biblically based.

To the outsider, all Christian groups – from evangelicals and Roman Catholics, to Methodists and Baptists – differ very little. They all believe fantastic, unsubstantiated ideas so that their arguments between themselves are no different from disputes about whether the tooth-fairy wears a pink dress or a green one. What they don’t seem to realise is that it’s irrelevant what she wears when she doesn’t exist.

The one thing that all dissenting groups do appear to agree on, however, is that the more demanding and unpalatable aspects of Jesus’ teaching should be ignored. Instead of trashing each other, Christians might set about selling all they have and giving to the poor, just like their leader told them to. That, and not petty doctrinal squabbles loosely based on books of the Bible, many of which we know to be forged, would be real Christian living.