I Grew Up In The Shadow Of The Holocaust And I Feel That Shadow Growing

According to Donald Trump, “Jews” are a “nationality”. That’s not the first time a country’s leader has started down that road. Throughout most of Europe’s history, Jews were kept apart. In Venice, Italy, they put them on their own little islands and called that area — where the Jews lived — “ghetto”. That’s where the word comes from.

Historically, when people see Jews as a “nationality”, it doesn’t end well for us.

I was born in 1959, 14 years after the Nazi concentration camps were liberated then 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 since 90% of the students would be gone.

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 horrified my community into a stone cold refusal to discuss it.

We went completely in the other direction. I wouldn’t say we “embraced” the Holocaust so much as we “owned it”. The end of WWII — the end of the Holocaust — didn’t end anti-Semitism the same way the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t actually end slavery.

As my community tends to do, we turned what happened to us into a teachable moment. There were some essential lessons still to be learned. 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. Turns out, the Nazis were admirers of how racists in America codified and amplified their racism. The Nazi’s method of industrialized murder found significant inspiration in America’s brand of Christo-fascism: slavery

You can’t cram peoples’ heads with tons of bullshit and not expect the bullshit to screw them up. Bullshit always screws people up – cos it’s bullshit. When you cram nonsensical, logic-free, hateful mythology into peoples’ heads, it screws them up. It’s worse when the logic-free, hateful mythology also runs counter to your religion’s core message (and its core messenger).

It sucks being despised because of a total fiction. It sucks worse being killed over it. But that’s what’s coming to America: death & destruction because bullshit.

In fact, “death & destruction because bullshit” is Trump’s entire re-election strategy.

Will The “Real Christians” Please Identify Themselves? The “Fake Christians” Are Confusing The Rest Of Us

Will the “real Christians” please stand up? Okay… will you sit down? Will you at least shut up?

With tongue planted firmly in cheek, I like to call atheism “the true faith”: the faith that faith is pointless.

Point of reference: one thing you never see atheists do is call atheists with whom they disagree “heretics” or “traitors to the faith”. That’s one of the luxuries of having no faith. One’s life (where faith is concerned) remains dogma-free.

That’s always the yardstick by which people of faith measure each other — adherence to dogma — to the rules and regulations that spell out how one “practices” a faith. Churches, by their nature, codify spirituality. They articulate a “how to do it” — how to “be spiritual” their way. They lay out a very particular path and insist that the only way to practice their faith is to travel that path.

Atheism has no path per se. Atheism is liberation from a path. It’s liberation from the dogma one must adhere to in order to stay on the path.

Another point of reference: mainstream Jews are dogma-free too. I don’t count Chassids as mainstream; they’re a whole other “tribe” within the tribe — and they are dogmatic and they do call out heresy. I was raised in the conservative school of Judaism — a middle ground between the ritual-attentiveness of orthodox Jews and the freedom-from-ritual of reform Jews. Though my branch of Judaism saw the orthodox as crazy and the reformed as wannabe Christians, we got along with them. We didn’t go to war with them the way Protestants did against Catholics in Europe. Or the way Protestants and Catholics did against Mormons in this country. Plenty of Mormon blood was spilled during Mormonism’s formative years because of what they believed. Point of reference — the people killing them because of their faith were ALL other Christians.

When I turn on my TV, I see sincere, earnest Christians insist that soulless evangelicals who support Donald Trump aren’t real Christians. Those Trump-supporting Evangelicals tell everyone that THEY are the real Christians and all those saying otherwise are apostates.

Oy.

What’s a non-Christian to think? It’s not for us to judge, of course. We have no skin in this game. I have no idea who the real Christians are and, frankly, I don’t care — except when your sectarian violence consumes the rest of us which it has historically.

Point of reference: no non-Christian has ever declared America “a Christian nation”.

In part, that’s because no non-Christian has any idea what you’re talking about. Correction — we know exactly what you’re talking about and it terrifies us. If Christians meant America is a nation that follows Jesus’s teaching to “Do unto others”, that would be one thing except it’s never that thing. By “America is a Christian nation”, those Christians mean “America is THEIR kind of Christian nation subject to THEIR brand of dogma”.

And anyone not playing along is a heretic who deserves everything terrible that heretics get.

Point of reference: many of the Christians who founded this nation were not Christian in the way contemporary American Christians understand Christianity. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, was a Deist who wrote his own bible. Is it Jefferson’s version of Christianity that makes America a “Christian nation” or is Jerry Falwell, Jr’s version of Christianity which — just saying as an outsider making an outsider’s observation — seems to contradict itself every which way?

Maybe, non-Christian that I am, I’ve got this wrong. I always thought “Christians” were followers of Jesus. Isn’t it Jesus who’s hanging on that cross? Isn’t the whole point of being Christian to follow Jesus’s teaching?

See, I think that’s part of the problem. There’s a huge difference between the simple (very Jewish) message that Jesus pitched — “Do unto others” — and the far more complicated, dogma-heavy, here’s-how-to-practice-the-faith message Paul ended up pitching to all the burgeoning, far-flung Christian communities he was writing to via his letters and epistles — you know, most of the text that makes up the New Testament.

The NT, don’t forget, was (by design) an updating & improvement upon the “Old Testament”. The NT insists that an OT prophecy about a messiah is true. But then, the NT goes on to say a lot of things that the OT did not say. It goes on — Paul does — to say a lot of things that JESUS never said. That’s just according to The Jesus Seminar — a group of biblical scholars (real, respectable, academic ones not bargain basement bible college ones).

Point of reference — and this is from the Westar Institute’s website (Westar created the Jesus Seminar which was dedicated to communicating cutting-edge scholarship on the history and evolution of the Christian tradition to the public, raising the level of public discourse about questions that matter in society and culture.) ” —

Jesus of Nazareth did not refer to himself as the Messiah, nor did he claim to be a divine being who descended to earth from heaven in order to die as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. These are claims that some people in the early church made about Jesus, not claims he made about himself.

At the heart of Jesus’ teaching and actions was a vision of a life under the reign of God (or, in the empire of God) in which God’s generosity and goodness is regarded as the model and measure of human life; everyone is accepted as a child of God and thus liberated both from the ethnocentric confines of traditional Judaism and from the secularizing servitude and meagerness of their lives under the rule of the empire of Rome.

Jesus did not hold an apocalyptic view of the reign (or kingdom) of God—that by direct intervention God was about to bring history to an end and bring a new, perfect order of life into being. Rather, in Jesus’ teaching the reign of God is a vision of what life in this world could be, not a vision of life in a future world that would soon be brought into being by a miraculous act of god.

Hmmmmm… Maybe I need to tweak my headline. Jesus clearly said one thing while the church Paul invented (very, very, VERY loosely based on Jesus it seems) said something else entirely.

We shouldn’t be asking “Who’s the real Christian?” We know how cruel you can be to each other. We know how cruel you can be to the rest of us.

All us non-Christians should be asking who “the followers of Jesus” are.

The rest of you are crazy.

God: The Interview

On the down side, church attendance is falling pretty much everywhere. On the plus side? Who needs a church when you’ve got the internet. A Zoomed church community talking about their faith may not blow a room away like a gospel service turned up to 11, but it’s better than nothing — especially in an age of coronavirus. God will take what he can get when he can get it. It’s just how the world works now.

Also on the plus side — God’s no dummy. He knows he’s selling a product that fewer people want and even fewer need. The challenge: how to sell coal to Newcastle, ice to Inuit and being racist to a Trump voter.

It’s not so much that you can’t sell it as they don’t need it. They’re covered already.

God wanted to meet in person. He said he wasn’t worried about catching the coronavirus because, as he put it repeatedly, “Chrissakes, dude, I invented the goddamned thing! Do you really think I’d be dumb enough to make it something I could catch?”

I do actually. Seemed like the perfect place to begin:

HTLBF: Just to be clear — coronavirus isn’t something you could catch, right? I mean “you personally”?

GOD: How could I catch a human disease if I’m not human?

HTLBF: Well, it’s not strictly a “human disease” and there are people who believe you are a human invention.

GOD: Get outta here! That’s impossible. I’m the be all and end all. The alpha and the omega. The original cause — of everything! It says so — in the book!

HTLBF: In a book you personally commissioned. Indeed – those are all claims you’ve made. But you’ve never proved any of them.

GOD: “Proving things” is for losers and atheists.

HTLBF: Actually, proving things is how we figure out what’s true versus what’s not. You say you created everything?

GOD: Hell, yeah!

HTLBF: Can you prove it?

GOD: Can you prove I didn’t?

HTLBF: It’s kind of hard to prove a negative — especially when it’s completely made up. We can prove that at some point, the universe as we know it, began — that our universe is composed of certain elements and that those elements exploded into being when the Big Bang happened.

GOD: And who do you think made the Big Bang happen? Me — the Big Banger.

HTLBF: Okay… let’s assume for a second that that’s true. You’re the Big Banger and you made the Big Bang happen.

GOD: See how the whole universe suddenly makes sense?

HTLBF: No. What were you doing before the Big Bang?

GOD: What do you mean?

HTLBF: I mean what were you doing? After the Big Bang, you’re “God” suddenly. Before the Big Bang, you’re just Yahweh — hanging out, I assume.

GOD: I wasn’t just “hanging out”.

HTLBF: How did you fool people into changing your name from “Yahweh” to “God”? Yahweh’s your name, “god” is your job description.

GOD: I’m the world’s first proprietary eponym. I was “Kleenex” before there was “Kleenex”, “Frigidaire” before there were Frigidaires. “God” before there were gods.

HTLBF: How do all the other gods feel about you expropriating their job title as your first name?

GOD: I don’t worry about what losers think.

HTLBF: What’s wrong with “Yahweh”?

GOD: Nothing. It’s a perfectly good name.

HTLBF: So why change it? Why have us call you “God” instead of your name?

GOD: Can we move on please? At least can we get to the questions about why everyone should believe in me?

HTLBF: If you weren’t just hanging out prior to becoming “God”, what were you doing?

GOD: What’s it to you?

HTLBF: What made you suddenly decide to create everything? One moment, you’re fine with nothingness, the next, it’s like you can’t go on without there “being” things. What changed?

GOD: I’m not answering that.

HTLBF: Because you can’t?

GOD: Are you trying to make me smite you with lightning cos that’s where I’m headed right now.

HTLBF: What is it with you and killing people?

GOD: Smiting with lightning doesn’t necessarily kill.

HTLBF: It’s not going to make anyone feel better. Aren’t we supposedly made in your image?

GOD: What do you think makes you so good-looking?

HTLBF: So, it’s just your image on the outside then. On the inside, we’re nothing like you.

GOD: The goal was to make you like me on the inside AND the outside–

HTLBF: But, whereas you succeeded on the outside — since we’re as good-looking as you — you failed completely on duplicating you inside us.

GOD: “Failed” is kind of harsh, don’t you think?

HTLBF: Why did you flood the whole planet then? Wasn’t it because you failed with humans?

GOD: Noah wasn’t a failure. I got him right. And his most of his family.

HTLBF: Out of how many humans total? You got, say, five people right out of thousands? And what about all the animals you created? What’d they do to deserve getting drowned? What kind of crappy creator are you?

GOD: Careful there, pal — I could roast you alive just like that.

HTLBF: Actually, I don’t think you can. I don’t think you’re capable of it. You’re not really capable of anything.

GOD: Dude, I’m serious. Do not piss me off.

HTLBF: Funny — I was about to say the same thing to you. If you invented everything — mankind included — prove it right now by obliterating me. Go on — do it. I bet you can’t.

GOD: Screw you, dude. Deities don’t have to prove shit.

HTLBF: Because deities CAN’T prove shit?

(God pulls the wireless mic from his collar, tosses it and walks out)

The bigger they are, the more full of shit they are. It goes double for deities.

How The Bible SHOULD Have Been Written

(Note: one in a continuing series). Today’s Episode ADAM & EVE:

The Scene: God says he created everything including Adam and a nice place (the Garden Of Eden) for him to live in.  He’s filled the garden with fruits and vegetables and animals – everything Adam might want. 

“It’s all yours, kid,” God tells Adam, “Every bit of it.  Oh – except that one tree over there.”

ADAM: Which one – the brown one?

GOD: No, the green one.  Are you even looking where I’m pointing?  What’s wrong with your eyes?

ADAM: I don’t know – you tell me. 

GOD: The big tree.  The colorful one.  The one I’m pointing at!  Never mind! It’s called the Tree Of Good & Evil and it’s the one tree ye shall not eat from!”

ADAM: Okay.

GOD: I mean it. Don’t eat from that tree or bad shit will happen.

ADAM: Okay.

GOD: You’ll die.  Because I’ll kill you.  I’ll have to – because you didn’t listen.

ADAM: Okay.

God wants to move on to other business.  But he notices Adam is lonely.  More to the point, God realizes that Adam can’t make more Adams all by himself.   So (God says), he created Eve from one of Adam’s ribs.  And, finally, shit gets real…

SCENE – The Garden Of Eden

Eve has just taken a bite from the fruit of the Tree of Good & Evil. 

Eve stands beside Adam, half-eaten apple in her hand, the serpent cowering behind her.  Adam isn’t exactly representing here either.  He won’t look Eve in the eyes.  He won’t meet God’s eyes either. And… FADE IN –

GOD: Look upon Adam, fallen woman!  Do you not see how he cowers?

EVE: What are you even talking about?

GOD: You ate from the Tree of Good & Evil, the one thing I said ye could not do–

EVE: First of all, back your bony ass out of my space.  Second, who the hell is “ye”?  And third – you wanna talk to me, you lower your damned voice. 

GOD: What?  I’m GOD, you silly woman.  I created everything here!

EVE: You keep saying that.  I’m gonna need to see some evidence.

GOD: See some—

EVE: Receipts, motherfucker!  Proof!  Anyone can walk around saying they invented shit: “I invented the universe! I invented animals! I invented blow jobs—”

GOD: I did—

EVE: Yeah – you’re proud of the blow jobs, aren’t ya?  Blow jobs, I’ll believe. What about the universe?  Prove you invented it.  Show me a bill of sale, a deed, a notarized note. Something!

GOD: I don’t have any of that—

EVE: Cos you didn’t do any of it – you just say you did.  I bet you didn’t make light or water or the sun and the stars either.  And don’t give us this shit about how you put all the animals here for us – we don’t know what half those things are and, frankly, we don’t want to know!  And what about sharks?

GOD: What about them?

EVE: They eat people.  What’s the point of that?

GOD: So don’t go in the water when they’re there. They think you’re seals. Have you seen what they look like on TV?  Sharks are amazing.

ADAM: What’s a TV?

GOD: Did I say that out loud?  Oy.  What I meant was “someday”, okay?  Someday, on TV, after someone invents it, sharks will look amazing. But – in the meantime – we have to deal with this.  I’m God, okay?  I’m God.  Being God means I get to make up the rules.  Look – I made you from Adam’s rib and I can unmake you just like that and replace you with another woman.

EVE: Bullshit!

GOD: What?

EVE: You heard me – bullshit.  If it’s so easy to make a woman out of Adam’s rib then do it.  Right now! Adam’s got plenty more ribs – and anyway – you’re God, right?  Look at everything you created!  Doesn’t seem that big an ask to squeeze out a few more ribs.

GOD: Who said it was easy?

EVE: You just did.

GOD: What I meant was I’d have to put Adam to sleep in order to do it—

EVE: Adam – tell him to put you to sleep so he can take another rib.

GOD: What I mean is—

EVE: You’re full of shit!

ADAM (as it slowly dawns on him): Wait—Are you saying he didn’t make you from one of my ribs?

EVE: Way to go, Sherlock!  Frankly, I’m dubious about the whole making us out of dirt thing, too.  Seems a little simplistic, if you ask me.

ADAM (finally looking toward God): God… have you been… lying to us?

GOD: What? Dude – don’t believe her.  She’s crazy!  I know – I made her that way.

 ADAM (to God): In your own image, right?  (to Eve): I gotta be honest – the whole rib thing never really added up to me—

EVE: Right?  Everything he says – if you stop to think about it – it’s bullshitty and makes no sense.  And he never says anything in a nice way.

ADAM: (now boldly looking God right in the eye): You are kinda bossy, dude.

EVE: Fuck “bossy”, he’s rude.

GOD: Okay, look – I see what’s going on here.  I get it.  But can we just – please agree to some ground rules:

EVE: Here we go again–

GOD: When I say don’t eat from the—

EVE: Why?

GOD: –From the—

EVE: WHY, goddamn it?  Why can’t we eat from that one tree? 

GOD: Cos—you know—“Good” and “Evil”.  I was trying to make a point.

EVE (looks to the half-eaten piece of fruit): You’re insane. This wasn’t even a good piece of fruit. Who died and made you God – that’s what I want to know.

GOD: No one.  I’ve always been God.

EVE: Well, isn’t that convenient?

Eve starts to laugh.  So does Adam.  Now it’s God who won’t meet their eyes because they’re laughing at him.

GOD: I am the alpha and the omega.  I am the beginning and the—stop laughing, damn you!  Stop it.  Stop laughing or I swear I’ll—

(God stomps off angrily).

ADAM: Yeah, you keep walking.  And when you get to the ends of the earth?

EVE: Keep walking — Bitch!

NEXT: NOAH & HIS ARK

Here’s The Problem With Letting Religions People Run Things, Part Two: Bill Barr

We all know Bill Barr as the most corrupt Attorney General of all time — that’s more corrupt than Republican all-stars Alberto Gonzalez (George W Bush’s AG), John Mitchell, (Dick Nixon’s AG — who went to prison for being corrupt) and Bill Barr himself (he was George H W Bush’s AG & covered up Iran-Contra).

But Bill Barr also stands out almost as much for being a certifiable religious fanatic.

Something about America has both attracted and inspired religious fanaticism. Shakerism was invented here (in 1772). So was Mormonism (1830). Seventh-Day Adventists opened shop in 1863. Jehovah’s Witnesses hung out their shingle in 1870. Church of Christ, Scientist 1879. Pentecostalism 1906. Reconstructionist Judaism 1920’s. Nation of Islam 1930. Church of Scientology 1953. And, let’s not forget, there have been plenty of smaller religious-oriented off-shoots like David Koresh’s Branch Dividian sect and Jim Jones’ Peoples’ Temple.

Something in us just plain adores ooga-booga with extra helpings of both ooga and booga.

Among the sects that fly under the radar is Dominionism. Dominionism (per Wikipedia) “is a group of Christian political ideologies that seek to institute a nation governed by Christians based on their understandings of biblical law. Now, Dominionism isn’t a club per se or an organization that hands out membership cards. We know that Dominionists see and seek brotherhood with other Dominionists (they have meetings in public places). But most of the big name Dominionists practice their anti-Jesus version of Christianity in the shadows.

The Kochs and Mercers think of themselves as “fellow travelers” with Dominionism. The Koch Brothers don’t seem especially religious but who has to “be” religious when the culture you’re shoving down everyone’s throat will do the dirty work for you? Same token — Attorney General Bill Barr may not be a card-carrying Dominionist but the religious fervor running around in his head is just as wacky, just as offensive, just as dangerous to our representative democracy.

Bill Barr believes in a bizarre brand of Catholicism that may even be darker and more regressive than Dominionism.

In a speech on religious freedom that he delivered to the Notre Dame Law School on October 11, 2019, Barr said —

“Men are subject to powerful passions and appetites, and, if unrestrained, are capable of ruthlessly riding roughshod over their neighbors and the community at large.

No society can exist without some means for restraining individual rapacity.

But, if you rely on the coercive power of government to impose restraints, this will inevitably lead to a government that is too controlling, and you will end up with no liberty, just tyranny.

On the other hand, unless you have some effective restraint, you end up with something equally dangerous – licentiousness – the unbridled pursuit of personal appetites at the expense of the common good. This is just another form of tyranny – where the individual is enslaved by his appetites, and the possibility of any healthy community life crumbles.

Bill Barr, Christian, fears other peoples’ “powerful passions and appetites”. He’s worried about THEM “riding roughshod over their neighbors and the community at large” — you know, like a police department beating the shit out of unarmed, peaceful protesters.

A more “effective restrant”, in Bill’s mind (overflowing as it is with “moral values”) —

“[T]o control willful human beings, with an infinite capacity to rationalize, those moral values must rest on authority independent of men’s will – they must flow from a transcendent Supreme Being.

Everything, to Bill, rests upon the thinking and feelings of a “transcendent Supreme Being”. Now, whose “transcendent Supreme Being” are we talking about here — the one who lives in Bill’s head or the one who lives in mine? Bill can’t say whether or not a Supreme Being lives in my head — he can’t get inside my head.

The Supreme Being inside my head says the Supreme Being inside Bill Barr’s head is full of shit. My Supreme Being says Bill Barr (and HIS Supreme Being) are bullies who should be ignored. In fact, my Supreme Being tells me every single day what a corrupt pile of shit Bill Barr is and how she can’t fathom why we Americans don’t just throw such an obvious criminal like Bill Barr in jail.

That’s what MY Supreme Being says. I bet Bill’s Supreme Being says something entirely different.

That’s the problem. Whose Supreme Being are we talking about here? Bill, of course, only talks about HIS Supreme Being — and not because Bill believes so fervently in his deity. In fact, Bill Barr — like most religionistas — doesn’t believe in God at all. Don’t get me wrong — Bill Barr absolutely believes there’s a God. Problem is, Bill Barr thinks it’s him.

That’s the deep, dark, dirty secret of pretty much every hard core religionista. They claim to understand God. They claim to speak for God. It’s easy — because they think they ARE God.

Right there — that’s the problem with letting a religious person like Bill Barr run ANYTHING. He’s not actually qualified to run a Department of Justice. He’s too corrupt.

He’s no more qualified to be “God”. Same reason.

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.

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.

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.