This Atheist Has No Quarrel With Jesus; It’s Christians I Have Issues With…

Growing up Jewish in a mostly Christian world (here in America, back in the 60’s) was like living inside a giant non-sequitur. Growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust (I was born in 1959, 14 years after the camps were liberated) added extra non-sequitur-iness. My tribe was hated to the point of genocide by the German tribe because…

Jews owned all the banks? Jews owned all the newspapers? Jews were destroying German culture? Gosh, if German culture was that easily destroyed, there must not have been much to it. By German culture, the Nazis meant their brand of Christian culture. But all Christian cultures seem to have one thing very much in common — Jew hatred.

Considering who Jesus was — born a Jew, lived a Jew, died a Jew (and died because he WAS a Jew) — the first leap every Jew-hating Christian has to make is that Jesus (somewhow) “wasn’t” actually Jewish. Ah, but that assumes most Christians actually care about Jesus. They do — the way McDonald’s cares about Ronald McDonald.

McDonald’s could cut Ronald free tomorrow. And, while it might cause some consternation among the McDonald’s faithful for a few microseconds, no one goes to McDonald’s because they love the clown. No, they love the food. They love the buttons McDonald’s food pushes inside them. And if McDonald’s shitcanned Ronald, after bitching and moaning for ten minutes, they’d be right back in line with their lunch order.

Back in the 1970’s an actual bible scholar (as opposed to the bible college brand of bible scholars whose scholarship is dubious at best) named Robert Funk formed The Jesus Seminar. Their mission — to coax an historical Jesus from the New Testament texts — to apply modern critical thinking so as to find the actual, flesh-and-blood Jesus in the sometimes conflicting stories the early church fathers painted of Jesus.

What, The Jesus Seminar wanted to know, could we reasonably say that Jesus did in fact say? What was Jesus’s actual message to the world.

The majority of the NT is Paul (mostly) creating the mythos of Jesus. We know Paul existed — he wrote letters to the Corinthians and the Galatians and the Ephesians and the Philippians and the Colossians and the Thessalonians. Paul wrote letters to Timothy and Titus and Philemon and the Hebrews. We have receipts for Paul — in which Paul is literally laying out what this new-fangled church HE invented actually “believes”.

Paul never met Jesus, remember. He met members of Jesus’s family — Jesus’s brother James — who all had profound differences with Paul and what he was doing, using Jesus’s name. They, unlike Paul, had heard Jesus speak and teach. They knew what Jesus said because they’d heard him.

Paul, on the other hand, was trying to make an actual human — who lived a particular life — fit into the story structure required of a prophesied messiah. The messiah prophesied in the Jewish texts “Acts” and “Isiah” has to come from King David’s bloodline and and had to be born in Bethlehem et cetera et cetara. Keep in mind — those prophesies were written by human beings with lots of hope in their hearts but no actual knowledge of events in their heads.

Paul was mythologizing Jesus to make him fit into a pre-existing myth. Read Paul — he’s a genius! He invented a product that we’re still talking about. “Believe in the story I’m telling”, says Paul, “And you can beat Death!” That’s the sales pitch. For real. Eternal Life thru Believing A Story.

And the story has nothing to do with the actual human whose story it supposedly is.

If we could go back in time and look Jesus in the eye — and if we told him what had happened subsequent to his death in his name, he’d be flabbergasted.

That’s because Jesus never, in his wildest imagination, ever set out to invent 1) a religion and 2) a whole church to preach it. Everything about Jesus was Jewish — including the core philosophy the Jesus Seminar concluded was his. Jesus’s ministry can be summed up in three words: “Do Unto Others”.

That’s it. It’s why Jesus’s message has endured despite the myriad ways the church established in Jesus’s name has tried to undermine it. “Do Unto Others” is way bigger than them. Anyone who wants to “do unto others” — an atheist, for instance — doesn’t need a church to help them. They can just “do unto others”.

Cost nothing — feels great!

Jesus recognized this fact about his core philosophy — it started and stopped with each individual person. That’s a very Jewish message by the way. Jews are taught to take responsibility for the world — not to convert it, to look after it. To make it a better place to live in. And because each of us must take responsibility for how we act toward others, we really don’t need a church looking over our shoulder.

In fact, Jesus taught that one doesn’t need churches at all — or the preachers running them. “Speak directly to the father”, Jesus said. Talk directly to God. Well, if the faithful can do that, what do they need a preacher for? Why do they need to pay for that preacher’s church — the physical structure?

What Paul built was genius. Can’t argue. But what Paul built was invented by Paul and the early church fathers who chose to tell one version of events over other versions. I recommend a fantastic book called “The Other Bible” which contains all the texts that didn’t make the cut into either the canonical OT or the canonical NT. Just knowing that there were texts that “didn’t make the cut” raises a shitload of questions about the “veracity” of the NT as a source for “truth”. Not like it should ever have been a question.

Jesus spoke to his followers’ spirituality. The church Paul created aspired to do that — using Jesus as a kind of mascot. To belong to a church, you have to follow its rules & believe what they need you to believe so that the church remains relevant — for instance, that the person your church is built on rose from the dead.

Which is why they keep asking if anyone’s heard the good news?

The Cruel, Cruel Truth About Conservatives: They’re All CRUEL

The faces of conservatism. What, do ya suppose, these young monsters want to “conserve”?

What’s in a name? Everything. Want to know what conservatives really, really want? It’s right there in their names: conservatives want to CONSERVE.

Now ask “what?”. WHAT do conservatives want to conserve?

You can’t conserve the future — it doesn’t exist.

But, you can control the present, in a sense. You can do things to keep present circumstances from changing. Well, you can do things to keep what humans do from changing. As we all know, we can’t really do much to keep our environment from changing. Not now, anyway, we’ve already set the worst in motion. Conservatives don’t give a flying fig about that. That’s the future — and they intend for the future to be exactly like the past.

Conservatives are always trying to jam square pegs through round holes. They aren’t the actual square pegs or the round holes — they’re just the ones trying to make them all fit together regardless of how much they don’t fit, never have and never will. That’s the basic operating principle of conservatism — you ignore the situation on the ground in favor of the one in your head. Your goal — make the one on the ground match the one in your head.

Funny thing? It never does. Conservatives never achieve their goal — of turning back the clock. Consequently, fewer and fewer people want to do what conservatives want (thus white America’s conundrum).

Conservatives want other people to behave themselves even as they don’t. They want other people to follow the law — even as they break it. They want other people to do what they say — just because they say.

Conservatives are almost always “religious” — in the sense that they say they believe in “God”. And they do. They believe THEY are “God” — and, as with the imaginary “God” of the Abrahamic texts, conservatives who believe they are God also believe that God-like Magic flows from them: what they say goes! Cos “God” said it.

And who is going to say no to “God”?

Down deep, conservatism demands bullying to have its way. How can it not? It keeps telling people what it wants them to do — but they say “no, thanks — we’d rather do it differently”. Conservatives should have taken their ball and gone home.

They didn’t.

Instead, they decided to change the rules of the game without telling anybody. In fact, they stopped playing the game entirely. They plotted with another neighborhood bully — guy named Vladimir — to start a whole new game — their game. How were they going to get us to quit our game and play theirs? Well, it wasn’t going to be by calmly explaining the rules to us — and selling us legitimately on why their game was better than our game.

Because their game sucks unless you’re them. We were never going to want to play their game.

Which meant bullying us instead. Cheating any way they could — like bullies.

There’s not a single thing Republicans have done since Donald Trump became president that doesn’t reek of cruelty. Hell — there’s not a single thing Republicans have done since… Lincoln? — that didn’t reek of cruelty. But, let’s remind ourselves: Lincoln’s Republican Party is not the contemporary Republican Party. As Heather Cox Richardson’s excellent To Make Men Free: A History Of The Republican Party points out, in virtually every way, the modern Republican and Democratic parties have switched names with the Republican and Democratic parties of Lincoln’s time.

Republicans have always treasured treasure over human life. It’s just a stone cold fact — if money is your “god”, then greed is your mantra and cruelty is the nature of your faith.

Dear Irony: Enough Already!

I like irony as much as the next guy — probably more than him. But even irony, it turns out, has its limits — or should.

Evangelicals praising a man Jesus would despise. The party of personal responsibility literally never taking any. A country racing to open back up for business even as the virus that will cause it to close down again — perhaps even starving it — races, unstoppable, through the heartland.

We get it! Everything in Trump World stinks of irony. And what’s ironic about that? Donald Trump himself can neither hear nor see irony. It’s as invisible to him as decency is. How do we know?

Irony requires a sense of humor in order to see it. The stark contrast — what a thing should be versus what a thing actually is — starts with oneself. If you can’t see the irony of your own circumstances, you can’t see irony period. In Donald Trump’s case, he can’t see the irony of his own lies — that every claim that he’s the best at something is demonstrably, ironically false because he’s the worst at it.

The irony overload isn’t helped a jot by a news media that, itself, is part of the irony. Ironically, America’s news media has no idea how badly they’re doing.

For instance — they still want to talk about Tara Reade (never mind that her story has changed repeatedly over time) and her accusations against Joe Biden. Have they shown anything like the same interest in the 20+ women who’ve accused Donald Trump of far worse — consistently and unwaveringly. And none of them are being represented by a lawyer who contributed to Trump and who have openly praised Vladimir Putin.

Oh, the irony.

We keep seeing — where Donald Trump’s corruption, deceit, treachery are concerned, there literally is no nadir — no bottom-most point where a rebound of some kind begins.

Irony in the Age of Trump feels equally bottomless. That was kinda funny — at first. Now, it’s not even remotely funny. Hmmmm… is that ironic? Quick — someone get Alanis Morissette on the phone!

I Grew Up In The Shadow Of The Holocaust

It’s National Holocaust Remembrance Day. According to Donald Trump, “Jews” are a “nationality”. That’s not the first time a country’s leader has started down that road… Historically, it never ends well for Jews.

I was born in 1959, 14 years after the Nazi concentration camps were liberated.  In my brain, those camps never went away.

I grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s in a Jewish suburb of Baltimore. Pikesville was so predominantly Jewish that “clever people” called it “Kikesville” instead. My public high school was so predominantly Jewish that even the non-Jewish kids took the Jewish holidays off — cos they knew NOTHING was happening in school those days.

You might think growing up in a place so culturally Jewish would shield one from the Holocaust’s awfulness. You might think such an awful memory — so close in our rear view mirror — would have made my community so horrified that they couldn’t bear to discuss it.

We went completely in the other direction. I wouldn’t say we “embraced” the Holocaust so much as we “owned it”. As my community tends to do, we made it a teachable moment. From a young age, I was told about this tragedy and shown images that burned into my mind forever. I don’t regret that for a second. I needed to remember these lessons – forever.

I have always been grateful to Hebrew school for making me the atheist I am today — and for giving me a stone, cold accurate view of the world — and my place in it because of my tribe.

There’s a famous photo of a group of Jews being rounded up in the Warsaw Ghetto by the occupying Nazis –

From the first time I saw the photo, I became that boy in the lower right. I bet a lot of Jews my age did.  We saw and felt that boy’s terror, his helplessness.  His confusion: how can they be doing this to you just because you were born Jewish?  You’ve done nothing wrong to anyone on the planet – yet the planet wants you dead. 

“Never Again” became as integral a part of my “religious education” as chanting the ‘Shema’.  The past hurt.  That was not going to be our future. 

In our guts, my community has always known this was lurking somewhere in the American Character. You can’t cram peoples’ heads with that much bullshit and expect the bullshit not to screw them up. Bullshit always screws people up – cos it’s bullshit. When you cram a nonsense, hateful mythology into peoples’ heads that actually runs counter to your religion’s core message (and its core messenger) — don’t be surprised when the nonsense becomes the message.

It sucks being despised because of a total fiction. It sucks worse being killed over it.

Ask Yourself — What Is It Exactly That Conservatives Want To “Conserve”?

I prefer calling myself (and being called) a Progressive because it more accurately describes how I think than the word “liberal” does. “Liberal” comes with tons of baggage, too, since it’s been used at various times, by various people, to describe ways of thinking that aren’t like mine — “liberal” as they may be.

I’m a Progressive because I want to see us all “progress” into the best possible future for as many people as possible. I’m a Progressive because I believe it’s in our collective interest to keep evolving — to answer new challenges with new ways of thinking. And to “think” those new ways of thinking, I think we’re best served by the widest possible brain pool that draws from the widest possible pool.

We know, because it’s there in the name, what Progressives like me want from our representatives, from our government and from our politics. We want progress. We want TO progress.

Okay, that’s our side. On the other side — Conservatives. Just like with us, what Conservatives want when you get right down to it is right there in their name: conservatives want to conserve.

Considering as you can’t conserve the future, that leaves only the present and the past. One can conserve the present — one absolutely can. One can slam on the brakes and insist that, from this day forward, we will not progress in any way, shape or form. We will do things exactly as we’re doing them today and that will be it. We will have conserved the present — which is really a snap shot of the past.

And, as each moment progresses, of course, that present will BE “the past”. Literally. And everyone living inside its rules and regulations, its whole way of thinking, it’s view of the world — is just as literally living in the past. By desire and design. Most conservatives don’t really want to live in the present, of course. They see the present as being too compromised already by the future.

They aspire to conserve what was — from a time when white guys — Christians ones of course — ruled the schoolyard without challenge. Yeah, they want to drag America back to the 50’s — the 1850’s. That’s really what conservatives want to conserve — a time when a good ol’ boy American racist-misogynist-bigot could do what he wanted.

The Paradise from the past that most conservatives dream of would look to the rest of us like a Boschian hellscape.

THAT is what conservatives want to conserve.

What To Do When Your Imaginary Friend Is A Raging Asshole

We all have a friend or family member who “took to” religion while the rest of us ran from it screaming, our hair on fire.

You know, guys whose feeble “Hey, have ya heard the ‘good news’ and can I ‘give you my testimony’?” when they were newbies in the cult turned into full on Kenneth Copeland raging insanity?

Can we all please agree — Kenneth Copeland’s idea of “God” and anyone else’s have nothing to do with each other.

Hell, I bet Kenny Copeland’s idea of “God” and, say, Jerry Falwell, Jr’s idea of “God” don’t line up completely. Pick any televangelist you like — Jim Bakker, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen — and make them put down in black and white what “God” is to them. Put those “What God Is” statements all up against each other and — take it to the bank — the idea of “God” — what he is (he’s a he to these jackals — that’s a stone cold fact), what he wants, what he really thinks — there will be massive discrepancies.

That’s not because “God” is such a “big idea”. It’s no bigger an idea than “Harry Potter” or any other inspired human creation. It’s because each and every one of those “god-fearing men” doesn’t fear “God” in the least. Why would they — they think THEY are “God”. That’s the point.

Put that notion in your head and re-watch Kenny explain himself. That’s not a man “serving” a higher power, that’s a man who thinks HE’S the “higher power”. And that’s the problem. Schmucks like Kenneth Copeland and Jerry Falwell, Jr are as atheistic as I am. If they honestly believed in a Big Daddy In The Sky, they’d be way better at doing what that Big Daddy has clearly said are His Rules. But they don’t.

It’s not a coincidence that the ultra religious are the ones caught so often with their pants down. The man who sexually assaulted me twice when I was 14 was the religious director at my family’s synagogue. All religious environments are thick with bullshit because the character(s) on which it all rests is entirely fictional.

At the very least, the character is entirely subjective. Witness the incredible variety of denominations even within denominations. How can that be — if this God character is so real and so clear about what he wants? As Kenny Copeland can tell you — God IS clear about what he wants. Kenny says God wants everyone to do what Kenny says. To tithe until it hurts to Kenny. To make Kenny even richer than he already is — and Kenny’s the richest preacher on the planet outside of the Pope.

All across the south — in Florida certainly — churches held services despite the warnings that those services would endanger everyone attending them AND anyone else they now come into contact with. They did this because the churches all insisted that THAT was what “God” wanted.

Really? Whose God? Oh, right — THEIRS.

And why would a religious person make it seem like their deity is a raging asshole — who doesn’t care about science or facts and doesn’t care if every person they know gets infected with coronavirus?

Say it with me, class: because THEY are a raging asshole. And their deity is just a little piece of them on display.

What Do You Do When The Reality Of A Pandemic Contradicts What Your Religious Faith Wants You To Believe?

I draw a very clear distinction between spirituality and religion. But then, I would — I’m an atheist. A spiritual atheist. I commune regularly with the cosmos though I’m quite sure the cosmos does not commune back. The cosmos couldn’t give a rat’s ass about me. I accept that.

I stand in awe of the cosmos regardless.

Your “Spirituality” is how you relate to things outside of you that are far bigger than you. It does not require any sort of magical thinking. The question is — how do you respond to uncertainty? People of Faith (it’s in the word “faith”) can’t abide uncertainty. They need to know why we’re here, how it started, where it all ends. A God character works well for them because He explains everything. In the beginning, there was just Him.

The rest of us — those with “no faith” to speak of — “believers in science” — are much more willing to accept uncertainty. Important caveat: no one “believes in science”. We believe in the “scientific method” which underscores how science arrives at its view of the world. We believe that a rigorous, testable, repeatable process willing to accept failure, willing to evolve as new information becomes available, gives us the widest possible context in which to make judgments about how the world works and what our functions and obligations are within it.

“Believers in science” are willing to accept — when we arrive at a question to which we DON’T have an answer — “I don’t know”.

“I don’t know yet.”

“I’m still working on that — give me time.”

“I don’t know.”

Those are all things people of faith can’t accept that people of “no faith” can.

Jesus said (quite simply) “Do Unto Others”. He said nothing whatsoever about doing what your priest says over what your gut says. No wait — I take that back — Jesus said quite explicitly that you don’t need a temple, don’t need priests. Talk directly to God. In point of fact, Jesus said IGNORE the priests, they’re corrupt.

Also in point of fact, Jesus (whoever he was in reality) did not invent any of the born-of-a-virgin, son-o-god, risen-from-the-dead stuff that fills the gospels. Paul did that. He started it anyway. The church took the ball from Paul and went to town with it. It’s all there in black and white. It’s just history — how the Christian Church evolved its mythology over time, starting with Paul. And Paul, too, evolved his sales pitch over the course of all the epistles he wrote to all those burgeoning “Christian” communities across the Roman world.

Paul invented Christianity. He invented the whole idea of a “Christian Church”. He invented the idea of Jesus, The “Do Unto Others” Mascot.

Inside most churches, that’s who Jesus is: a mascot. Beyond the pretty white boy framing though? Most churches have absolutely no use for that guy. He’s too socialist.

The problem with churches are that they’re all self-serving. They have to be. In order to continue to exist, a church has to pay for itself. Though they may teach magic INSIDE the church, they know damned well magic won’t be building that church. It’s going to take money.

And then, once the church is built? It will require MORE money. That’s why churches NEED followers — who pay tithes. Those tithes pay for the church building. And the priests. And the whole rest of the church institution. And all those buildings and the people who work inside them.

On the way to building that church organization, that church had to create rules. That’s the big difference between spirituality and religion. Spirituality just “is”. It has no rules or regulations. It doesn’t need them — except in that, ideally, your spirituality should guide you in your relationships with every other human being — who has their own spirituality. That’s where Jesus’s very simple “Do Unto Others” solves the problem spiritually. Who needs any ten commandments?

Commandments are very “churchy”. “Synagogue-y too”. It smacks of patriarchal nonsense. Don’t piss off dad. Or else.

Jesus would NEVER have told his followers to go to church — despite the risk of coronavirus — simply because some PRIEST said “do it”. Jesus would have thought “I don’t want to be given coronavirus by someone who has it but might not know it, so I will not give it to someone else (if I have it but don’t know it).” He would have done unto others as he would have had them do unto him.

No one would have been told “Go to church”.

The problem with so much religious faith is that it’s misplaced. That’s not the fault of those seeking spiritual enlightenment. Their need is their need. But they’re told early on that a church can handle that enlightenment when, in fact, enlightenment is NOT what any church is about: continuing as a church is.

Churches teach nonsense because that’s how they hold onto followers. The rules and regs — the exclusivity of a church (us v them) — they all become shackles.

So — what does one do when one’s church preaches death but calls it something else?

This humble atheist suggests looking deeper — into yourself. You know you far better than any church ever will.

Our universe is like the most amazing art museum imaginable — filled with remarkable works of staggering beauty. Church followers are like museum-goers who can’t see any of the art around them because they’re now worried that one of the museum guards is looking at them funny.

Ignore the guard. Savor the cosmos.