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

It isn’t all that surprising that a racist knuckle-scraper like Marjorie Taylor Greene would compare being compelled to wear a face mask to being sent to Auschwitz. In her heart, you just know Marjorie’s a Holocaust denier. Hell, I bet if Marjorie could go back in time to the Holocaust, she’d be thrilled. The biggest challenge would be choosing which death camp at which to be a prison guard.

One of the first big lessons that stuck in my head as a child — the biggest up to that point being toilet training — was that I was hated because of what I was — a Jew. That’s a strange thing to teach a little kid without an enemy in the world. But, when I was growing up, in the early 1960’s (I was born in 1959), not twenty years since the camps had been liberated, the full weight of what had been done to us (not just by Germany but also by anti-Semites all over Europe) was only just beginning to dawn and make itself felt. In Baltimore, where I grew up, Jews began emigrating toward the suburbs, most settling in and around an enclave northwest of Baltimore called Pikesville. Before long, clever Anti-Semites turned that into “kikesville”. My affluent, comfortable, semi-assimilated upper middle class Jewish community could live with name-calling.

Pikesville was so predominantly Jewish — ditto its public schools — that even the handful of non-Jewish kids took all the Jewish holidays off because they knew the schools would be virtually empty. We had a really great tennis team but a really terrible football team that, wouldn’t ya know it, all the other teams loved to beat the crap out of.

American culture was still celebrating having won WWII. There were prime time TV shows about it like “Combat” and “Hogan’s Heroes”.

My culture also celebrated. It felt good not being extinct. And some of us wondered aloud: if not for Hitler’s homicidal madness, would the state of Israel have existed?

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 while telling them it’s truth, 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 murdered because of it. But that’s what’s coming to America: death & destruction because bullshit.

In fact, “death & destruction because bullshit” is the Republican Party’s entire strategy going forwards.

Sometimes I Think It Would Serve Christians Right If Jews Took Back Jesus

Stone cold atheist that I am, I consider myself a huge “fan o’ Jesus”. Even a humble atheist can see that having others do unto him as he does unto them is preferable to having to murder everyone they meet in cold blood every day. I also appreciate Jesus as a cultural Jew. Jesus (Joshua ben Joseph actually) — Jesus was Josh’s gentile name — was born, lived and died a Jew. He never, for two seconds, thought he was anything other than Jewish from the start of his life to its unfortunately-too-brief end. Thought experiment: suppose for a moment that Jesus never got crucified. Instead, he preaches his “do unto others, you don’t need a temple or any of its priests to speak to God” message to a ripe, old age (back then, he maybe made it to fifty — another dozen or so years). In that case, Saul of Tarsus never has his conversion on the road to Damascus, never reinvents himself as the Apostle Paul and never (here’s the key) invents Christianity out of whole cloth. Paul did not base Christianity on anything Jesus said or did. How could he? Jesus never said “Hey, go found a church outside Judaism based on my teachings!” He didn’t even think such a thing. Aside from the story beat where Jesus rises from the dead (essential if Jesus is going to be anyone’s idea of “the messiah”), Paul really has zero use for Jesus.

“Do unto others” isn’t why Christianity remains one of the world’s most practiced religions. Most of Christianity’s adherents probably couldn’t tell you the last time they did unto others or anyone else did unto them. “Do unto others” is the ad slogan that brings you in the door. “We’re nice people”, it says, “You can trust us”. What keeps inside once they’re there is Paul’s Big Idea — the “Good News”: If you believe in Jesus the way Paul is telling you to, then, when YOU die, you, too, can rise from the dead just like Jesus did! That meant Christianity wasn’t just a “religion”, it was a way to literally defeat death.

Remember — previous to the Jews inventing Yahweh, their monotheist god, most polytheistic gods had little to do with humans. They might use us as playthings but the relationship between us went no deeper. Yahweh, on the other hand, liked humans. No — he loved us!

Yahweh — that’s God’s actual name, “god” being his job description — marked a sea change in how deities related to humans. Most polytheistic deities could take humans or leave them. Not Yahweh. Yahweh not only created humans from the dust of the earth, he loved humans so much that he made us in his image. Of course, Yahweh also hated his creation so much that if he wasn’t punishing us, he was thinking of ways to wipe us out completely. Think of the psychopathology of that. Dude’s mighty enough to create literally everything yet so insecure he needs to be told repeatedly that he’s loved and adored — by one of his creations, not even an equal!

The simple fact is, the Jesus the gentile world bought was not the Jesus anyone Jesus knew knew. Jesus’s message had nothing to do with magic or ooga-booga. “Do unto others” is a simple, elegant way to “Tikkun Olam” — every Jew’s obligation to make the world a better place for having been in it. Such a simple message doesn’t require a church to spread it — after first obscuring it behind mountains of dogma.

I bet if Jesus could return from the dead and look around at the world of today, one of the things he’d be most baffled by is Christianity — a whole religion claiming to follow him while, in fact, demonizing and murdering his tribe. Where’s the “do unto others” in that?

I can imagine Jesus surrounded by Christians, wondering what corner of hell he’d wandered into. Wondering what on earth these crazies were talking about. For sure Jesus would head to the nearest synagogue he could find (once he understood that those are what we now call “temples”. Some of what Jesus would encounter would baffle him. Judaism has evolved considerably especially since coming to America. But he’d still feel tribally connected to Jews — and not to the Christians with all their loopy ideas about him being born in a manger in Bethlehem because of a census that never happened. For real — Jesus would hear the mythology Paul invented about him and he’d probably want to find Paul and kick the crap out of him.

Take this to the bank: Jesus would not attend nor become a member of any church. He’d find what happens inside foreign, confusing and utterly unrelatable.. He’d bolt for the door, in search of the nearest synagogue and his people. He’d beg us to “take him back” — which, of course, we would since, really, he never left.

Maybe Monotheism’s The Problem…

I have always been grateful to Hebrew School for making me the atheist I am today. I mean that in the nicest way possible. I’m pretty sure I dropped from the womb a total non-believer, but whatever lingering doubts I had about atheism being “the truth faith” were swept aside by eight years of religious education. The story that iced it for me — made following my tribe’s faith a total non-starter — was the “Abraham and Isaac” story. The three Abrahamic religions all hold up Abraham as “the first monotheist”. In actual historical fact, whoever “Abraham” actually was, while he may have been an early convert from polytheism to monotheism, he was by no means the first human to toss all the other gods in favor of just one, in Abraham’s case, Yahweh. The “innovation” in the Hebrews’ monotheistic creation was their deity’s relationship with people. Yahweh wanted one, having personally created us.

None of the characters in the Abraham-Isaac story made sense to me — even when I was a kid. Yahweh the god is petulant and petty. He’s powerful enough to create literally everything in existence, yet out-of-his-mind-neurotic because humans keep screwing up. Are there any other worlds out there this Yahweh character feels compelled to keep flooding and destroying because he got one of the pieces wrong? How many generations of human — after Adam and Eve — did it take for people to forget Yahweh created them? Why would Yahweh — creator of everything — let a single human get that wrong to begin with? If Yahweh created everything, why would he countenance the creation of other gods — even if only inside peoples’ minds? And, what kind of father is Abraham? He’s a couple hundred years old (per the text) and wants, more than anything, a son with his wife Sarah (whose baby-making machinery was equally old, but never mind!) He has a son with Sarah’s maid Hagar (Ishmael — the foundational character in Islam’s story) but it’s not the same. Finally Sarah bears Abraham the son he’s always wanted.

And, what does this loving, doting, adoring father do one day — with the son that he loves more than life itself — when the voice in his head says, “Hey, Abe — grab your kid and a sharp knife: we’ve got some business to transact”, what does Abe do? He takes that child he loves more than life itself to the place the imaginary voice in his head told him to. If the voice says “sacrifice your son”, that’s what Abe’s doing, no second thoughts. If not for the intercession of an angel — who offers up a goat as a sacrifice to replace Isaac (and what did the poor goat do to get hauled into this bloodbath?) — Abraham murders his own child, end of story.

I remember thinking back then “And the point of this story is…?” I grasped but couldn’t then articulate the perversity of monotheism and its strange “asks”. To accept monotheism, you have to accept Yahweh. And, to accept Yahweh, you have to accept a deeply flawed human creation. Only a human would think Yahweh, as written, is much of a deity. I bet among actual deities, Yahweh couldn’t get hired to bus tables at the Deity Café. He certainly wouldn’t get invited to sit down with them and play in any of their reindeer games. Yahweh’s too puny.

Or, is Yahweh too clearly what he is — a human creation? That’s an important distinction if we’re discussing the Creator Of Everything. Who created who first? Considering as Yahweh wasn’t the first god a human ever invented and wasn’t even the first god that the Hebrews followed (they also followed ElBaalAsherah, and Astarte before the cult of Yahweh over-rode all the other gods and the Hebrews settled on Yahwh as their “Hear, Oh, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one”.

Here in the west, we tell ourselves that monotheism was an evolutionary step above polytheism. It was in the sense that monotheism emerged after polytheism as a new way to see the world. But is monotheism an “improvement” the way evolving webbing between our fingers would make us better swimmers? Did monotheism’s creation in the human mind produce improvements to human life for having been created? One could argue yes. In praise of monotheism, great buildings rose. Great art was made. Much thinking has been directed towards it. But, one could also argue that monotheism has been a curse.

It all comes down to Yahweh. As written, Yahweh has it in for his human creations. He tried once already to wipe us all out via flood (if you accept the stories as reality — a dubious thing to do). Apparently the new humans that rose after Noah were no better than the rotten humans that preceded Noah. Yahweh felt they were so rotten that he’d have to create a mechanism to “absorb” all that human rottenness, dispose of it somehow and then permanently redeem these creatures who constantly disappoint him. Yahweh created a “son”. But, not just a son — a way (if you believe in that son just the right way) to beat the thing that scares humans most: death.

The Jews ultimately evolved Yahweh into a creature who commanded them to make the world a better place for them having been it. The Christian world evolved Yahweh into a bully who insists you believe in his son — and his son’s ability to conquer death — or he’ll kill you.

Jesus taught you don’t need a temple or its priests (or a church and ITS priests) to have a relationship with God. And, by the way? Do unto others. But that’s not how the Paul heard it or sold it. He downplayed the “Do unto others” part and cranked up the dogmatic rules involved in beating death by believing in Jesus. To Paul’s credit, his invention was sheer genius. It’s longevity speaks to that. Christianity isn’t a religion you embrace if you want to “Do unto others” (you can do that without it), it’s one you embrace if you want to “live forever”. That’s the “good news” inside every Christian’s “testimony” — a dubious path to eternal life.

Once taken up by a believer, monotheism can morph into authoritarianism faster than any other belief system. How can it not? Where’s the check on Yahweh’s voice? It’s not like Yahweh walks in the door a rational character. His only real innovation is the ability to reproduce with humans. And what does Yahweh have in mind for his child? Death. If the mythology is going to work — if Jesus is going to be proven the actual “messiah” — then a bunch of things have to line up (at least in the telling). To begin with, Jesus has to die because Eve disobeyed Yahweh when she ate from the tree of knowledge thus committing the “original sin”. On top of that, Jesus also has to come from the priestly line and then from King David’s line to boot. Plenty of gymnastics to pull off there.

Plenty of dogma, too. Spirituality demands zero dogma. Religion relies on it exclusively to suck you in and keep you in. Monotheism relies upon the most rigid dogma of all — because it’s deity is so rigid (even at his most “forgiving”). “I am the Lord, your God and thou shalt have no other gods except me!” Gosh, Yahweh, when ya put it that way

What if the monotheist’s core assertion is wrong? What if there is a deity of sorts out there, but it’s not named Yahweh and the deity’s on a completely different mission than the knowledge-challenged Yahweh? What if Yahweh was as real as Harry Potter or Voldemort? Here’s the problem — if I base everything I think on a false premise — if Yahweh isn’t “the guy” despite what Yahweh cultists insist (what if Buddha cultists are right instead?) then literally everything that I do because I believe in Yahweh rests upon a flawed foundation. My core reason for doing anything is based on nonsense.

Or the wrong god maybe… .

The bottom line is this: religion itself is inert until a human being picks it up and puts it on. The “armor of Christ” that the Apostle Paul urged Christians to wear only becomes real and fully active inside a believer’s head. Even a “loving God” needs to be defended to the death.

I take it back. It’s not monotheism that’s made a mess of the world, it’s monotheists.

Are There More Atheists Out There Than We Think?

Step One: define “atheist”. Step Two: since, one way or another, everyone can be seen by someone else as an atheist, “yes”. There are way more atheists in the world than we acknowledge. In fact, some of the most theistic people we all know, are, in their way, the most a-theistic, too. But there are plenty of people who don’t think much about God one way or the other. Granted, these people aren’t one-hundred-percenters. They’re more “agnostic” really where God is concerned. But, just as they’re not “faithful” atheists, neither are they full-fledged theists. I’m old enough to remember when being an atheist or claiming you were one put you into instant conflict with almost everyone you knew. The more theistic would look on me with pity — and a degree of scorn. I was told more than once that I “couldn’t be an atheist” — that it was “impossible” because a world filled with atheists — having no God to guide them — would surely destroy itself via violence. As if God hadn’t written the book on how to destroy the world via violence.

From a polytheist’s point of view, all monotheists are atheists. A Christian who believes that Yahweh (the character we call “God” has a name — “Yahweh”; “god” actually is his job description) is the only god, must first deny every god in the polytheist’s pantheon. Unless the polytheist also believes in Yahwheh, the denial of all his gods makes the monotheist an atheist. From the polytheist’s vantage point, a person who believes in Yahweh rejects the gods that exist and, instead, believes utter nonsense. In fact, Romans did consider Christians “atheists”.

As I said above, some of the most ardent theists are, in fact, the most atheistic people of all. Take televangelist Kenneth Copeland and his Kenneth Copeland Ministries. For reference, if you haven’t already (and even if you have), it’s good to let Brother Kenneth remind you himself how a “man of God” and a “total charlatan” can be one and the same person.

Every televangelist has a dirty, dirty secret. They share it with an awful lot of churchmen. The entire Catholic hierarchy is based on this notion — that no one actually believes IN God, they believe they ARE God. If God speaks through YOU and not some “ordinary” person because YOU “studied ‘his’ texts (never mind how those texts got to us and the editorial perspective they represent), it’s because YOU think you’re special in the eyes of God. When you look in the bathroom mirror — that is who you see staring back at you: God. You may look heavenward with your prayers, but the answer to your question always has your voice in your ears. Or a demagogue’s. Because the demagogue is speaking just like your God speaks.

If you dig deep enough into most every theist, at some point — as they parse their version of God from their neighbor’s (their neighbor is misinformed, you see — that’s why they go to a different church), you’ll have to confront one cold, hard fact: THEY think THEY have it right. God has made it clear to them that they hear God correctly. God is “love”, not the crazed, blood-lusting mania that other guy thinks God is. But, how do they know? The crazed, blood-lusting guy seems pretty convinced that the Voice of God in his ears is the Voice of God. How does any theist know for sure that their version of God is the version of God?

Unless they’re just guessing they’re right — and living with the uncertainty — they’ll have to take ownership of being the alpha and omega themselves. They are the actual source of the tree of knowledge, the actual piece of prohibited fruit and the serpent, Eden being a product of their imagination. Or some other human’s that they’ve adapted as their own. That’s how a church works. It imprints its version of God onto yours, conforming yours to theirs. Either accept their version of God or risk being called a heretic (with all the fun that comes with it).

In a sense, any version of God (“Yahweh” or otherwise) that conflicts with another risks being atheistic because of what it’s denying. A white supremacist’s version of God cannot co-exist with the magnificent creature leaping and dancing inside the head of a choir member at any AME church. Those Yahweh’s do not look the same. They don’t “think” the same either.

The good news for all those theists about to confront their own atheism? They’ll find way, way more sympathy for them than if they were traveling in the other direction. Atheists live dogma-free lives (at least where religion is concerned). They may trip themselves up in myriad other ways dogmatically, but they won’t hobble themselves over Yahweh. They’ve heard “the good news” and the good news is they ain’t buying. Believe anything you like. It’s not bringing you back from the dead. It just isn’t.

The problem, as always, is less the religions people invent than it is the religionistas who practice those religions. Even a message as simple, elegant and (most importantly) DO-ABLE as “Do unto others” couldn’t survive churchification. Paul certainly didn’t think much of “Do unto others”. He may have used that to open the sales pitch but he closed the deal with “…and if you accept MY version of Jesus then you, too, can defeat death!” The history of the Christian Church (from the point of view of those outside it) hinges on “accept MY version…”.

Jesus’s core message doesn’t require an ounce of dogma to follow: “Do Unto Others”. That’s probably why Paul and the early church fathers rejected it. But then, Paul and the early church fathers also rejected Jesus’s teaching that no one NEEDS a church. The only church one needs, said Jesus, is Jesus. Temples and their priests are all corrupt. Skip em — and go directly to the Divine Source. Skip the dogma, too. If you’d just do that one thing — unto others — you’d be the perfect student and follower of Jesus.

Or has that never been the point?

Even a simple atheist can “Do unto others”. All things considered, as a guide to “how to live a better, happier, more successful life”, there isn’t any better advice. Ah, what atheists could teach Christians about how to be better Christians…

The Slippery Slope Into Bullsh*t

A huge chunk of America believes bullshit is true. Literally. You could hold up the truth and bullshit — side by side — and they’d gobble the bullshit right up without even thinking about it. Hmmmmm… Without even thinking about it. How is it so many Americans do things — like vote for Donald Trump — without even thinking about it? Sure, sure — there are tribal Republicans for whom the American flag means everything while the Constitution it supposedly stands for means nothing. They’d worship the flag even if we ditched the Constitution and became an official authoritarian shithole instead. Let’s set them aside (please!) I’m talking about that still sizeable slice of Americans who’ve been genuinely bamboozled by a news media incapable of doing the job it’s been entrusted with.

To be fair, America has always had a flair and a talent for “outside the box” thinking. You can’t accomplish big if you don’t dream big. And when it comes to manufacturing bullshit, ordinary Americans have to contend with bullshit that’s been created by “outside the box” bullshit artists. How good are they? They convinced America that keeping slavery was a good thing. That’s some serious bullshit.

White people have a remarkable talent for inventing bullshit, living according to bullshit, dying because of bullshit and passing bullshit on to the next generation so they can proliferate it too. Take “Manifest Destiny”. Does bullshit get any whiter or bullshittier?

White, Northern European culture — the spawning pool for white supremacy — took the good fortune of living where it lived (I’m all in with historian Jared Diamond’s excellent “Guns, Germs & Steel”) and assuming it meant they were anointed by God to manifest their destiny. The irony was that the continent on which the Europeans landed (some Southern Europeans — not an improvement on the Northern ones) had been eons ahead of them culturally and developmentally. Check out Charles C. Mann’s excellent “1491: New Revelations Of The Americas Before Columbus”. When Paris and London were shithole adjacent — glorified villages at best — sizeable metropolises thrived in North America. For real.

Strange how we still haven’t incorporated that into our history. To this day, America has it in its head that European culture is a “superior” culture to all others. It isn’t. It’s just one of many cultures. What gives American culture an edge is DEMOCRACY and the fact that so many cultures are part of American culture. Diversity is what makes America exceptional.

It’s just natural to believe in “Manifest Destiny” once you believe God smiles upon you especially when the “God” you’re talking about is yours. An African American’s God probably doesn’t want them to be enslaved — that includes the Christian God that was shoved down the African slave’s throat. But then, a good, strong case can be made that plenty of ardent theists aren’t all that theistic actually. Dig a little, ask them some questions, and you’ll realize: they don’t believe IN God, they believe they ARE God. That’s monotheism’s trap — the God you hear inside your head is YOU!

And once you start believing the stuff you believe was inspired by “The Divine”, you’re just a heartbeat away from giving Jesus (or God) “the wheel”. It ain’t YOU doing “it”, it’s God! This, right here, is bullshit’s spawning ground. Regardless of whether there is a God or not, you’re convinced now that there is — and that YOU’RE version of God is THE version of God.

I convinced myself that I was responsible for my own molestation when I was fourteen. I was wrong, of course — it wasn’t my fault. But that bullshit — that’s what it was — tormented me for the 45 years I kept it a secret, mostly from myself. The bullshit undermined my confidence without me even understanding that bullshit was my problem. That’s how effective bullshit is lying to you. That bit of bullshit led to a suicide attempt four years ago.

But, in the aftermath, while recovering, I realized not only how dangerous that one piece of bullshit was, I realized that my little secret about me wasn’t the only bullshit impacting my life. Bullshit was contorting me into pretzels, giving me whiplash. Some bullshit — you need it frankly, just to get through a day. It’s the small stuff you need to let go of but can’t, so you bullshit yourself about it — keeping to a diet, for instance, whether for weight or health reasons. Sometimes, a piece of bacon just won’t be denied.

Sometimes, frankly, bullshit tastes good. Sometimes it feels good. Until it becomes one too many. Ah, bullshit…

The trick is learning to judge which bullshit you can tolerate living with and which you can’t. If we all dealt with our own bullshit first — before even thinking of looking at anyone else’s, that’s all we’d do — manage our own bullshit. As I began to recover from the decade-long depression that came to a head when Trump became POTUS, I actually felt better for addressing my own bullshit while forgetting about everyone else’s. I recommend it.

The Donald Trump presidency was a kind of “Golden Age Of Bullshit”. Trump personally took bullshit to bold, new heights almost every time he opened his mouth. You could hear the bullshit soaring in his voice — and his voice sailing aloft, lifted in turn by the bullshit. The news, just from repeating Trump, felt like a daily bullshit tsunami.

Our news media is split on the subject. Some of them assert it’s no their job to sort bullshit from truth — that’s our job. But, when you present bullshit as a possible alternative to truth (without labeling them so), bullshit gains credence. Until only recently, the NEWS MEDIA regularly hosted discussions pitting climate scientists against climate deniers. They’d put these two “points of view” (as if bullshit could HAVE a “point of view”) side by side in a fifty-fifty shot that gave both speakers & both points of view equal screen real estate. In the visual language (and it is a language), a 50-50 screen says “these two points of view have equal heft, weight and likelihood of being true”. See how that works? Because they didn’t understand the language they broadcast in, American journalists regularly had conversations on their air where they were determined to equate bullshit and truth.

It’s a strange thing about humans — it’s sooooooo easy to sell them bullshit yet sooooooooo hard to sell them truth — even as they’re zooming down that slippery slope, unable to stop themselves. Bullshit is what makes that slope so damned slippery.

Bad Things Happen When Messengers Screw Up The Message — “Do Unto Others”, For Instance…

Here’s the question I can’t get out of my head: why are Christians so bad at practicing Christianity? Why do they seem so utterly incapable of “doing unto others” — a teaching so exquisitely simple, graceful and flat out do-able that even a humble atheist can pull it off with ease? Why can’t they? Here’s a clue — you know the game “Telephone”? A group of people — the more, the better — try to transmit a message from one person to the next. The fun is how mangled the message gets from first person to last. “Pineapple on pizza is an abomination” turns into “Aunt Minnie says you’re mutant”. People mis-hear stuff. They’re drunk and having fun. And, of course, some people are just assholes. They’ll deliberately screw with the message because, down deep, it was always about them anyway.

I spend a lot of time here on this blog critiquing not so much Christianity as Christians and what Christians did to Christianity. I want to understand how Christianity arose out of Judaism and broke free as a thing unto itself. That’s the most painful irony of all where Christianity and Jews are concerned: Christianity’s core message is entirely Jewish: “make the world a better place for having been in it” aka “do unto others”. And yet, the messengers of this magnificent teaching have turned it on its head. Worse — the messengers have made the message about themselves.

Jesus was pretty clear where his thinking about religious institutions and corruption were concerned. He saw no need for an earthly priest overseeing an earthly Temple. A believer’s relationship with Yahweh could be — and should be — entirely personal: no need for intermediaries. Jesus wouldn’t then go and invent a church to spread that message (“you don’t need a church”). That’s where the Apostle Paul comes in. Take Paul out of the equation and Christianity never gets invented.

I don’t know why we even call Christianity “Christianity” when, really, it’s about Paul. We should call it “Paulism” except the Catholic order of Paulists (their patron saint is Paul of Thebes the First Hermit) have already expropriated that brand. Paul never met Jesus. Never heard him speak. Everything Paul knew about Jesus was entirely second hand. Thus the game of “Telephone” was already up and running. We don’t know how the messaging changed from Jesus to “Listener One” and if “Listener One” spoke what he/she heard Jesus say accurately when they transmitted Jesus’s message. If there were more listeners between “Listener One” and Paul? See the problem?

I’m not calling Paul an asshole. He’s a genius. But he’s like the asshole in a game of “Telephone” — deliberately altering the original message to suit his own purposes. Paul had an idea in his head — that sprang not from Jesus but from his idea of Jesus. Jesus wasn’t traveling with Paul on the Road To Damascus except as a passenger in Paul’s mind. The converted are especially committed to their new faith — witness Paul. And Paul was determined to bear witness to what he now believed about Jesus.

Like Jesus, Paul was a Jew by birth. They both knew all the same background mythology because they both knew the same texts. They both knew what a messiah was and what had been prophesied about a messiah hundreds and hundreds of years before. Quick reminder: a prophecy is just a guess based on the information at hand and the desires of the heart. It’s no more real or reliable than a racetrack bet. Sure, sure — there’s a good shot of reality in there: there are horses! Jockeys! The race track itself! But favorites lose races every day. An informed guess is still just a guess.

Another reminder — the men who wrote the texts of the Pentateuch (betcha most every last one was a man) were operating from a very limited knowledge base. They had no idea other continents even existed on the planet. They had no idea that our planet was part of a much larger solar system and galaxy and universe. They had no idea that germs and viruses and pathogens existed — and were killing them every day. They knew bupkis (that is the technical term — look it up)! They honestly didn’t know where the world came from or how it all operated. Their deity Yahweh (that’s “God’s” name — “god” is actually is job title) emerged from a world filled with gods. From a polytheistic point of view (from the Roman’s point of view in fact), Hebrews and Christians were atheists who denied the existence of THE gods. Their gods.

Amazing how relative atheism can be if you think about it…

Paul embraced an idea of Jesus and tried to preach it to the Jews (including Jesus’s own family) who roundly rejected it. Paul’s version of Jesus was not the Jesus they personally knew: you know — JESUS. What Paul said Jesus said, they rejected. Had Paul respected Jesus’s original message, he might have stopped there. But Paul wasn’t preaching Jesus’s message, he was preaching his own — and his was, in a way, “better”. Well, it was “new and improved”, let’s say. “Doing unto others” is nice. Beating death is way, way better.

Paul’s genius was turning “Do unto others” into “Believe my version of Jesus and you, too, can live ‘forever’.” Eternal life is Christianity’s main sales hook. What does every human fear most? Dying! Hey, what if someone invented a religion where — if you followed along the way they told you to — you could, in a way, live forever in a place called “Heaven” where you and your loved ones can be together forever in a state of bliss. While gods had existed before, none of them had offered humans anything nearly as valuable — and godlike — as this.

And all you had to do was “believe”.

That the world remains in Paul’s thrall — that a whole Catholic church (then a bunch of Protestant ones) could arise from Paul’s repurposing of Jesus — is a testament to the universality of the human dread of death — of not being here.

“Do unto others” and “Defeat death” have zero to do with each other. Paul’s church, for all it preached “do unto others”, never actually practiced it — as an institution. Oh, yeah — newly minted Christians could be quite good at “doing unto each other”. But the institution they created around them all — it was dedicated to selling that other idea. And that other idea relied explicitly on faith and the faithful. It sure didn’t help matters — or deepen the nascent church’s dedication to Jesus’s message — when Paul imagined the idea of Miles Christianus, the Christian Soldier, “doing unto others” on horseback, the “armor of Christ” protecting them as they delivered “the good news” with the tip of a spear.

“Do unto others” morphed into “Do what we say — or else”. THAT became the Catholic church’s mantra. It justified Crusades and Inquisitions and Pogroms and all sorts of mayhem that did the opposite of Jesus’s teaching. Imagine what Jesus — born, lived and died a Jew — would say when he learned how HE was used to justify murdering so many fellow Jews. Think he’ll sit back, nodding in satisfaction at how well Christians were “doing unto others” like he taught them to?

The problem isn’t Jesus. Never was. The problem is Paul — the messenger — and how he changed the message. And then Paul’s church asserted itself as the only “official” followers of Jesus and the only body authorized to speak on Jesus’s behalf — and therefore on God’s behalf. Quick reminder — the people who run the Mormon Church think the people who run the Catholic Church are frauds. And vice versa. From a neutral point of view, who’s to say who the fraud is.

Jesus is but a mascot in both worldviews. He’s “Jesus McDo-Unto-others”. People walk in the door because of him. But the “Happy meal” the church is selling is a completely different product entirely.

The church’s real message — the one Jesus saw through and hated — is corrupt. Like the corrupt Temple authorities Jesus railed against, modern Christians (as opposed to followers of Jesus) are being seduced by corrupt churches interested much more in their own success as institutions over anything touch feely — you know, “Christian” — they might impart. Churches — the physical buildings — cost money to build and maintain. The financial obligation alone can and has put churches literally out of business. That they have a BUSINESS to be put out of — that’s where the corruption begins.

The messenger has fully co-opted the message.

“Do unto others” now services “We gotta pay the rent”. Whatever brings believers in the door, puts them in pews and gets them tithing — that’s any church institution’s bottom line: survival. As churches have proved for almost two thousand years now, their survival always comes at everyone else’s expense.

This Atheist’s Problem Isn’t With Jesus — It’s With The Institutions That Have Perverted His Simple “Do Unto Others” Message

I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again and again: atheist though I am (and always have been), I consider myself a very real “Fan Of Jesus”. That’s not a contradiction. Jesus was a person (it’s debatable, agree, but let’s go with it). Christianity is a faith based on that person. But loosely. Very, VERY loosely. Jesus was born, lived and died a Jew. His audience was Jewish — as Jewish as he was. They knew all the same mythology, texts and rituals. Jesus only ever spoke of and about Judaism. He did not invent Christianity. That happened quite a while AFTER he died. He did not advocate for Jews breaking away from Judaism — not even remotely. If anything, Jesus wanted the purest form of Judaism he could get to — just the Jew & God. That was the Temple Jesus aspired to be part of, freed from the priests and their corruption.

Institutions, Jesus rightly said — they’re corrupt! That’s why you render unto Caesar that which is his but keep “the good stuff” for God. Seems like, to Jesus, a corrupt Roman government was as corrupt as the Temple institution. Certainly neither represented God’s interests. Hey, I’m just spitting back the story that’s been spit at me — but freed from the strange perspective that belief lays on people. In my podcast “The Faitheism Project Podcast” (which I highly, HIGHLY recommend but then, I would — I’m biased), Presbyterian minister Randy Lovejoy and I begin our conversations about faith, unfaith and the world we live in with the understanding that spirituality and religion are two different things — that religion is but one way some people address their spirituality. That the awe I feel as I gaze up at the universe we all live — the “connectedness” I feel to it and to everyone and everything — that fits the definition of “spirituality”.

Why is that an important distinction?

In America, the religious right commandeered “spirituality” in that particularly “Hey, have ya heard the good news!” way they have. Before Christianity, people saw “god” differently. Even after Paul invented Christianity and it flourished — other people saw “god” differently (and still do). As before, many saw “gods” not just “god”. To a polytheist — as sincere in her faith as any monotheist — a monotheist is pretty much an atheist — because the monotheist has denied pretty much every single one of the polytheist’s gods. True fact — The Romans viewed early Christians as “atheists” for that very same reason.

Hey, as Forrest Gump would put it: “Atheists are as atheists do”. Didn’t know you were “in club”, did ya, Christians? Hey, no worries — in this club, we don’t judge the way they do in your club.

The thing about many, MANY atheists — we didn’t become atheists because we’re lazy. Many, MANY of us have thought long and hard about it. Many, MANY of us think about it literally every damned day. It’s that important. Why, it’s like a matter of “faith” to us — and, like the “faithfulliest” of the “faithful” do, we, too like to touch base every day because this is the foundation for all of our thinking, for our behavior, our morality. How we see ourselves and our place in the universe — the benefits and responsibilities of being here — yeah, atheists need to stay connected to it. It’s who we are.

For an atheist, “doing unto others” is the most natural instinct there is. Humans are social animals. Our success as individuals will be determined by our success in the group. Measured by it, too. It’s pure survival instinct, hard-wired into our DNA. Jesus’s “Do unto others” is a more direct way of putting the core Jewish directive “Make the world a better place for having been in it”. How shall I make the world a better place, Lord, if I want to live the best life I can — accepted by the group and as part of the group?

“Do unto others”. Got it.

“Do unto others” is perfection because, in those three words is a whole concept of how to live successfully as a social creature. Have good bonds with everyone — the rest will follow. When things aren’t going well — the group will be there for you! When you’re succeeding — you pay your good fortune back to the group. It doesn’t have to be money.

Ah, money…

The root of all evil. Rather — the WORSHIP of money: that’s the root of all evil. Money’s just a thing. Greed is how some humans react to money. It’s like how most people “handle their drink” while alcoholics cannot. Their biochemical craving for alcohol literally destroys them — destroys those they love, too. Greedy people are like “power-drunks”. Greedy bastards glug money like a guy with the DT’s chugging a quart of rotgut. They’re answering a sickness. That’s an important distinction, too.

Money also brings power, of course. The people with the most money always seem to have the most power. I guess that’s why someone wrote down: “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

Money, greed and corruption. That’s what Jesus preached against. I dare ya — point me to a church institution that isn’t — even in some small, money-related way — CORRUPT. As they say in Maine, “Ya can’t get there from here.”

Jesus ain’t the problem. Never, ever was. Those who claim their violence is righteous because they do it in Jesus’s name — that’s more like the problem. It wasn’t Jesus who triggered them. How could “do unto others” trigger violence? Where did such a message that “faith in Jesus” meant taking up arms and killing people come from if it didn’t come from Jesus?

It’s a trick question. “Onward Christian Soldiers” didn’t write itself. But, hey — a Christian did.

Why Do Some Christians Hate Being Forced To Reap What They Sowed?

As an atheist, I wonder frequently why so few Christians follow Jesus. That is, they belong to a church — but their church sees Jesus the way McDonald’s sees Ronald. He’s a mascot. He’s the “Do Unto Others” bait that they switch with “Do What We Tell You To Do — Or Else!” Institutional Christianity has no use for Jesus beyond his being a mascot. Jesus didn’t invent Christianity after all, Paul did. If Jesus were to rise from the dead and see the violence (much of it anti-Semitic!) that has been attributed to him, supposedly “inspired” by him and belief in him? His head might literally explode.

Religion gets to make up its rules as it goes along — and change them when they become inconvenient. That’s not a criticism, it’s just a fact. If science could play by those rules, it probably would. But, it can’t. Science relies on rigor. It needs the math to add up and check out. Consistently. Science, for instance, understands that there’s no magic. The carbon we pour into the environment today won’t disappear just because that’d be more convenient for us. Pandemics don’t disappear just because we want them to either.

And, every time we meet with a friend — even with masks on — just because we’re convinced neither of us has or will give the coronavirus to each other? We’re gambling. We’re playing Russian Roulette (ironically) with a pathogen.

Our sister sight Mulligan Jesus, has suggested that lots of Christians (if inside their own minds) see their Bibles more as a smorgasbord line than a book on which to base their lives. How’s the adultery looking today? Fresh? I’ll overlook the fact that I shouldn’t do it then “because it’s so fresh!” How about greed or pride or any of the other sins that practicing Christianity is supposed to “cure one of”? All available. All waiting to be piled onto my plate. That’s why they adore their “Pick N Choose” Bibles — why pretend to follow rules you think are stupid — or that might could get in the way of you having a good time, doing whatever the hell you want, and getting whatever the hell YOU think you’re entitled to?

That’s the dirty, little secret every one of these Christians (as opposed to “followers of Jesus”) carries around in their tiny black hearts: they don’t believe IN God, they believe they ARE God. Gods, you see, don’t “do unto others” because no one — they believe — is good enough to “do unto them”. Gods do whatever the hell they want. Or, that is, they think they can.

With the Republicans coup attempt, we are witnessing this behavior writ large. Republicans long ago reimagined themselves as “The White Guy’s Party”. They cannot abide the idea of Black people, brown people or women having authority over them (never mind governing). And just as these Christians pick n choose what they “believe in” from their Bibles, they pick n choose what laws from our Constitution they want to follow (if for the moment). You know — like someone who thought they were “God” might do.

“The Party Of Personal Responsibility” is always first to avoid it. Quick thought experiment — if Barack Obama (or anyone in his administration) had said what Michael Flynn said last night, inciting sedition against a winning Republican presidential candidate, what do you think would have happened to him? Kinda makes one think the whole “Party of Personal Responsibility” thing was always horse shit. Ain’t that shocking…

The Catholic Church protecting child molesters didn’t exactly surprise anyone — except for the extent of child abuse and its acceptance within the church. And is anyone truly caught off guard when scumbags like Jerry Falwell, Jr. get outed for the frauds they are? We all recognize that religiosity breeds deceit because it breeds judgment. If you perceive yourself to be more “God-like” in your behavior while others are “demonic”, you’re probably going to cast all your actions in the best possible light (regardless of the truth).

The reason so many “devout Christians” hate to reap what they sow is because they never intended to reap it. They expected someone else to get suck with their diseased crops. You know — like the man they think God “made” president — Donald Trump — always does.

I bet if Trump spoke the words “Do unto others”, he’d actually burst into flames — or melt like the Nazi at the end of “Raiders Of The Lost Ark”. That’s why he’d say — under his breath to protect himself: “…before they do unto you.” That’s the Trumpist’s creed.

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.