An Atheist’s Easter Sermon: Why REALITY Matters More Than Ooga-Booga

Christmas is a pagan holiday redirected.  For all its “holiness”, all its fanciful storytelling about Wise Men from the East and stars that shine above spots on a planet light years away from them, Christmas still celebrates something; it’s a happy holiday.  Easter, on the other hand, is about Christianity’s core message: “Jesus died (but then rose from the dead – as YOU can, in essence, IF you agree to accept the story we’re pitching you as ‘gospel’ truth.”

Jesus being born and having a life is all well and good.  He can preach all he likes.  But it’s dying that gives the Jesus character purpose.  If Jesus never dies the way he dies (if, say, the NT celebrated his living a long life, dying in his bed surrounded by loved ones), there’s no Christianity.  It doesn’t happen.  But it wasn’t Jesus who told his own story.  Most of what we call “The New Testament” was written by Paul.  13 of the canonical texts are ascribed to Paul though only 8 can really be ascribed to him.

In 1985, the bible scholar Robert Funk created a group of 150 similar scholars.  The Jesus Seminar wanted to coax a historical Jesus from the NT texts.  They discerned a Jew whose core message (they found a dozen-and-a-half sayings that Jesus could have said — that weren’t clearly PUT IN HIS MOUTH BY OTHERS (like, say, PAUL).  What they also saw clearly — “According to the Seminar, Jesus was a mortal man born of two human parents, who did not perform nature miracles nor die as a substitute for sinners nor rise bodily from the dead.  Sightings of a risen Jesus represented the visionary experiences of some of his disciples rather than physical encounters.”

The historian A N Wilson wrote a biography of Paul that I highly recommend — if only to create the proper context in which to understand Christianity’s creation.  The bottom line is simply this: Jesus did not “invent” Christianity.  Paul did.

Paul took the notion of Jesus as a messiah — threw out Jesus’ core “Do Unto Others” message and focused his proselytizing instead on making Jesus The Messiah the basis for a whole new religion that he sold to non-Jews for whom Jewish tradition was meaningless.  But, to prove, HIS invention’s “truthfulness” (maybe “truthiness” is more warranted), Paul based his mythology on Jewish mythology.  Paul needed Jesus being prophesied as part of his branding.  To make the “prophecy” part of Jesus’ story stand up, Paul had invent a story for Jesus because Jesus’ actual story just didn’t fit.

Paul didn’t worry himself with his story’s lack of authenticity.  He wasn’t selling real.  He was selling magic.

But part of Paul’s mythology involved making Jesus’ death important — more important than his life, really.  Jesus needs to rise from the dead to garner the star power needed to front Paul’s new religion.  To rise from the dead, Jesus needs to die spectacularly — even more spectacularly than mere crucifixion. And, because Paul was now committed to selling his story to non-Jews, it mattered nothing to him if Jews became the villain in the STORY he was inventing.

The early church fathers who bought & then themselves began selling Paul’s story loved having a villain.

As a member of the “villain” tribe — I have issues with this.

Jesus preached a simple message.  Even a humble atheist can easily (and happily) “Do Unto Others”.  Most do, actually because, humans are social creatures.  We recognize that behaving one way versus the other makes your life better.  There’s no reason to muck that message up.  It doesn’t cry out for explanation.

It requires no magic.

It stands — resolutely — without any need for Ooga-Booga to justify it.

So here’s the deal.  Believe whatever you like, Christians — it’s your “god-given right”.  But what you do with that faith — how you manifest its teachings out here beyond the walls of your church — it matters.  When your pervert “Do Unto Others” into “Kill The Jews” — you’re doing it wrong.

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True Fact: I’m An Atheist Who Loves Churches

I’m always fond of saying (or selling t-shirts that say) “I am grateful to Hebrew School for making me the atheist I am today” (the t-shirts also have “…grateful to Sunday School…” & “…grateful to Sunday School…” versions because I’m all about being inclusive).

I have always been grateful to Hebrew School

I suspect I was born an atheist but whatever lingering doubts I might have had as to atheism’s core truths were quickly tidied up by my religious education.  I attended Hebrew School in one form or another for 8 years.  I was bar mitzvah-ed.  In fact, I was so good at doing the “bar mitzvah song & dance” that the synagogue my family belonged to invited me — at age 14 — to recite torah portions several times.  I was fully immersed in my religion’s ooga-booga — the “conservative” (as opposed to reform or orthodox) version that held onto traditions like the orthodox but didn’t quite turn the synagogue service into a  wannabe church service like the reform temples did.

Mind you, I don’t view my religious education with any animosity.  At all.  I mean what I say: I am grateful for that education.  I consider myself a cultural Jew.  I am damned proud of my tribe’s culture.  I have no use for its religion however.  To a large degree, I have Hebrew School to thank for that.

My fascination with Christianity began with being hated by it.  It seemed a natural question for a curious kid to ask: “Ummm, I get that you hate me, but why?  What did I ever do?”  When you get down into the “why”, if you’re honest about the history you’re reading (as opposed to the religious text — one of my Hebrew School teachers, Mr. Hymen, was very clear on that; the Pentateuch is a religious book, not a history book), the whole reason that Christians hate Jews — the “Jews killed Jesus” story — is absolute rubbish.

Quick diversion… It’s a fact: none of texts of the Old or New Testaments magically wrote themselves. People — men most likely — wrote them. Call their inspiration divine, call it gas. Call it whatever. A person thought it up and wrote it down — inspired in whatever way you like.  Jesus did not write a word of the New Testament.  Paul (the former Saul of Tarsus) however did.  The bulk of the NT is Paul — writing to the new, far-flung churches he was creating and instructing on the just-invented rules and mythology of Christianity.  That HE was inventing.

Back in the 1985, American biblical scholar Robert Funk put together a group called The Jesus Seminar. The Seminar’s 150 members focused on the New Testament’s historicity — and what, if any, of a historical Jesus could be drawn from the texts. The Seminar settled on about a dozen-and-a-half of Jesus’ sayings that all the gospels agree on — that Jesus said (versus things the gospel writers — or Paul — put into Jesus’ mouth).

The Jesus that emerged from the Seminar’s work was big into doing unto others. He wasn’t into forming churches.  Why would he be? He was a lifelong Jew who, actually, hated the institution of the Temple because, to Jesus, no one needed a go-between.  The believe could/should go directly to the god character.

Churches exist for the sake of their own existence — like any institution.  Whatever its founding principles, once you get past the abstract, it all comes down to survival.  Churches need money and believers to remain in the church business.  They are motivated first and foremost by the need to continue “being”.

The Catholic church was brilliant — once it created its message — at selling its message.  One of the ways they sold their message was in the way they ultimately imagined their own sanctuaries.  If money permitted, they imagined them BIG.  Big was the point.

These are from inside Notre Dame de Paris — before the fire.  See how enormous the cathedral is vs how small each individual human is?  That’s the point.  To put a single human in his or her place relative to the power and awesome size of the institution and its church.  It’s a not-so-subtle kind of psyche war the church launches against its own believers.

But, I love it.  I adore the use of architecture to create a visceral feeling.  Churches are all about that, of course.  To put you in the right frame of mind to approach the divine.

There’s a church in Venice – San Pantalon. Like lots of the churches in Venice, it’s beautiful. But this one has something quite special — a painting that fills the entire sanctuary ceiling. The painting depicts an opening to heaven — into which all the people and creatures in the painting are being sucked.  It’s as if a portal to heaven had opened directly above the church — and the painting was revealing that fact.

It’s a brilliant affect.

So, yeah — I’m an atheist who likes visiting churches.  I wouldn’t sit too, too still when the magical incantations began, but I do appreciate the artistry of the people who imagined the church then manifested their vision out here in reality.  For what it’s worth, I’m a big museum-goer, too.

Not A Revelation: Magical Thinking Is Stupid, Stupid, STUPID!

Everyone — myself included — is guilty, guilty, guilty of Magical Thinking. I may not have an imaginary friend like some or follow rules plucked from my imagination or my ass, but I have, when Tottenham Hotspur (my footie team) is down two goals late in a game, still thought it was possible for them not to lose.  They lost.

My magical thinking led to personal disappointment — unpleasant but survivable.

If I used that magical thinking though as the basis for a belief system — Spurs lost so therefore a whole host of other things (beyond football) must follow “logically” demanding certain actions and counter-actions — and if that belief system’s impact spread beyond my own disappointment (because my team lost a game) — out into everyone else’s lives — that would be a problem.  I would have taken something based in unrealistic nonsense-thinking out into reality — with unrealistic expectations for it.

Gosh – should I be shocked when more disappointment follows?

Today’s ludicrous Magical Thinking headlines (among others) — Trump’s military transgender ban takes effect & there are still “thoughtful” people walking around who think AG Bill Barr isn’t desperately trying to cover up a massive, explosively far-reaching scandal that will consume and destroy the entire Republican Party.

The basis for the military transgender ban, of course, is pure, unadulterated bullshit.  I would love to put all the Magical Thinkers who base their contemporary lives on the knowledge base of uneducated desert-dwellers who thought everything revolved around the earth onto an airplane large enough to accommodate them all.  Then, as we rolled toward the runway, I’d like to introduce them to their pilot.  He knows nothing about flying planes.  But he “believes” he can do it — so off they all go…

Magical Thinking comes with being a homo sapien.  Until such a time as it evolves out of our brains, it will be hard-wired into us.  It’s the first thought that burps from the miasma of our uncertainty.  Magic: the explanation for this wonder must be Magic.  It ain’t.

I could go on and on — I recommend watching this lecture that Neil deGrasse Tyson gave a few years ago.  His point: even the greatest minds in the history of science — Isaac Newton among them — surrendered to Magical Thinking when they reached the end of their knowledge base.  A little while later, some other thinker solved the problem — no more need for Magical Thinking.

The answers to all our questions are out there.  We may not get to them all in our lifetime — but they’re out there once we gain the knowledge or the knowledge to make the instruments we need to “see” the knowledge and the answers they provide.

America has always been fertile territory for Magical Thinking.  Strange, exotic religions (lots of them offshoots of Christianity) have come and gone here.  One of the first groups of Europeans to settle and (more or less) survive — the Pilgrims — were so deep into their offshoot brand of Christianity that none of the other Christians wanted them nearby.  So the Pilgrims came here.  Think about it: one of the foundational European groups to call North America home came here because their brand of ooga-booga was too ooga-booga-y for other believers of the same basic ooga-booga!

It’s not a coincidence that Mormonism and Scientology were American creations.  Jewish mythology is extensive.  By “mythology”, I mean stories that sit squarely outside the provable.  They may have some shadowy echo in the historical record but the echo has been blown up into something it never was.  As it’s the surviving word of these people and their times, we have no way to put these texts into a larger perspective.  We can use our current knowledge base — including our knowledge of germ theory — to figure a guy like Noah could not (and did not) put every animal on the planet on a boat and did not, subsequently, live to some biologically impossible age well into the hundreds.

Magical Thinking allows a person to believe that his foundational texts appeared out of nowhere — the product of divine intervention.  These tenets he lives by — they’re not his idea, their a deity’s.  Therefore they must be the Truth.  Yeah, but — the guy next to you has a whole other mythology in his head — with conflicting details — all based on the very same texts.  Either one of these two has it wrong or their deities are terrible communicators.

Think about that:  Magical Thinking can imagine a deity capable of creating the vastness of EVERYTHING — but can’t put the basics of how & why into a form two people can agree upon.  That’s a deity so flawed, illogical and goofy that only a homo sapien could dream it up.  And then believe that IT created HIM.

Here’s my problem in something larger than a nutshell… If you tell me going in that you’re a person of faith — and you believe in Magical Thinking and its Magical explanations for how and why we’re all here & how and why we need to live together as peacefully as we can — then I’m going to look at you with a shitload of doubt.  I know for a fact because you’ve told me — given a good enough story, you can be made to believe anything.

If you believe in Magical Thinking, your judgment sucks.  I’m simply going along with what you’re telling me.

Dear Christians: Stop Listening To Paul; Listen to JESUS Instead

It sucks that an atheist has to explain Christianity to Christians. But — the fact is — atheists have a perspective on Christianity that Christians intrinsically lack (and can never get). THIS atheist — having perspective — sees a distinct difference between Jesus (the supposed “inventor” of Christianity and “Christianity” (his supposed “invention”).

Oy. Where to begin…

Back in the 1985, Robert Funk (an American bible scholar) created The Jesus Seminar. Funk wanted to promote “biblical literacy” via a “historical-critical” approach that viewed Christian orthodoxy with extreme doubt. Funk wanted the Seminar (composed of about 50 critical-thinking biblical scholars and 100 lay people) to identify (if they could) and draw out a “historical Jesus” from the texts — a man apart from any mythos. While the Seminar was most active in the 1980’s and 1990’s, its work has continued up to today.

The Jesus Seminar concluded that (this is taken from Wikipedia’s page on the Seminar) —

The seminar also concluded that at best we can put a dozen to a dozen-and-a-half sayings into Jesus’ mouth — as things Jesus might have said (vs the self-referential things he almost certainly did not say because it would never have occurred to him).

That means that, effectively, most of what we think of as Christianity had nothing to do with Jesus — and everything to do with Paul who was the one person hard at work creating far-flung churches (among the goyim) made up of goyim. The overwhelming majority of the NT is Paul communicating with and building his church communities. And he’s mythologizing Jesus as he goes — converting “Historical Jesus” into Christian Church Jesus.

Real Jesus despised the “church” (in his world – the Temple authorities). Jesus’ whole message was “You don’t NEED a church to have a relationship with god”. Since that’s the case (according to the Jesus Seminar), then why on earth would Jesus advocate for the creation of a “church” to speak for him? It’s ludicrous on its surface.

Jesus preached a simple message — that’s why it’s endured. Simple & doable. Why, even a humble atheist can “do unto others” without contradicting themselves.

For “Christ’s sake” — following Jesus is incredibly simple (and rewarding). I bet following a church can’t hold a candle to it.

This Is A Moment In Time Where Magical Thinking Could Kill Us…

…that is if we follow Magical Thinkers and their bottomless capacity to believe utter nonsense is real. I draw a very clear distinction between ‘spirituality’ and ‘religious faith’ because there IS one. Even a humble atheist can feel a sense of awe as he or she gazes out at the cosmos — feels its vastness and mystery yet his or her own tiny existence as part of it, too. That’s ‘spiritual’. It’s dogma free. It’s the feelings without the bullshit explanation for them.

Religious faith demands a suspension of disbelief from the ground up. Religious faith is an attempt to explain that awe everyone feels (even the atheists) with a story — pulled, let’s be honest, from some person’s ass. Okay — from their imagination. Same difference really. I say that as someone pulling something from my ‘ass’ right here, right now. What I am doing here is no different in its ‘inspiration’ from whatever those scribes felt thousands of years ago when they first began to scribble their thoughts onto parchment.

I’m not entirely sure why Christianity still co-brands with Jesus. The institutional Christian churches long, long ago dispensed with Jesus’ core message: ‘Do Unto Others’. Instead they’ve all taken up variations on a theme — justifications for their own existence & continuation. Jesus didn’t ‘invent’ Christianity. If such an actual human ever existed, he was born, lived his whole life and died a Jew. What he preached was Judaism and nothing but. A counter-institutional brand of Judaism — but Judaism (it so happens most Judaism welcomes those who question).

Paul invented Christianity. Most of the New Testament is Paul setting up the ‘Church’ — its larger community — and its fundamental concepts. Those concepts did not include ‘Do Unto Others’. They included the mythology to justify Jesus (a character more than a person in their minds) as the messiah character described in the Jewish texts – themselves nothing but mythology, the product of human imagination. In the context of stone cold reality — things that actually happened vs things that actually didn’t and never could — Paul was building a sand castle atop a sand castle.

We stand at a moment in History where our ability — as a society and a culture — to discern what is from what isn’t — will determine whether we pull ourselves out of this death spiral or simply fly into the ground — and lose our Democracy and every last bit of ones freedoms. That’s not hyperbole.

As of last night, we became ‘aware’ that the FBI was hip to Donald Trump’s treason when he fired James Comey. They’d had inklings but refused to listen to those inklings. A failure of imagination. And a failure because of Magical Thinking — that it just couldn’t ‘be’. That the FACTS ON THE GROUND couldn’t be ‘facts’. That what WASN’T was ‘truer’ than what WAS.

When Comey was fired — and Trump repeatedly acted in ways that screamed how guilty he was — that, finally, was enough for reality to overcome the ‘walls’ that had been put up around The Truth by Magical Thinking. I hope we all agree that this cannot be our process going forward. We need to see Magical Thinking for what it is: prettified BULLSHIT.

If America is going to pull itself out of this — correct it’s course — and restore itself to its core — enlightened — ideals, we need to do it with our eyes wide open. We need to take the spiritual messages from religion — ‘Do Unto Others’ — and remind ourselves that all the other stuff was written by clever, imaginative men (it was probably all men) who didn’t know anything about the world they lived in beyond what they could see with their naked eyes.

If the men who wrote the foundational texts of any religion had the knowledge (that’s knowledge as opposed to bullshit) available via the internet today, they would have written their foundational texts WITH that knowledge. The core message would have still gotten through, one hopes, but wrapped up in a better-informed knowledge-base of how The World actually operates — and why.

The WORST Thing About Anti-Semitism Is How IRRATIONAL It Is…

A Thought Experiment:  You walk into a room.  Another person enters and punches you – hard.  You ask — “What was that for?”  And the other person responds “Because you killed my god”.  Being a RATIONAL person who doesn’t want to get punched again — and who doesn’t want to resort to violence yourself — what’s your response?

There is no response.  The moment you engage with that conversation, it wins — because YOU have to agree that its made-up bullshit could be true — otherwise, why are you arguing with them?  Everything after — ‘But that’s not true…’ is a waste of time.

Want to know why Jew Hatred has lasted as long as it has?  Because who can argue with someone who, to put it another way, thinks HARRY POTTER IS REAL?  How can you argue with someone who clearly BELIEVES IN MAGIC?  How can you argue with someone so confounded by the very texts they claim to ‘believe in’?  How can you argue with people who are confounded by those texts because the INSTITUTION that assembled them and shaped them and crafted them into a particular narrative had that very hostility toward the Mother Religion in mind?

You can’t.

Instead you get vilified.  You get re-imagined as something you aren’t.  You get to be “We hate Jews cos Jews killed Jesus”.

What was it Marx said about religion being the opiate of the people?  He had that dead wrong.  If only it were an opiate that medicated people or narcotized them.  It’s much more like meth or angel dust.  It gets brains hopped up on something almost entirely artificial.

There are great, meaningful, profound lessons to be taken from the assembled texts of the Old and New Testaments.  Why is it religious people seem to take NONE of those lessons away with them?  The whole reason Jesus’ message still resonates today — even in the minds of an atheist — is because it’s so essential to living a good life:  “DO UNTO OTHERS”.  But not only simple enough for even a troglodyte to grasp — “DO UNTO OTHERS” is ‘actionable’.  it’s not some airy-fairy abstract notion of ‘goodness’, it’s a simple proposition:  “How do YOU wish to be treated?  Then treat every other person exactly that way.”

Boom.  The genius that evolved at the very tail end of the Genesis through Book of Revelations story — its takeaway theme.  The whole point of the exercise.

Except it was never about Jesus or the Jews or their message.  Why on earth do you call it ‘Christianity’ anyway?  Paul (the former Saul of Tarsus) is really the faith’s ‘inventor’.  Paul’s the guy who broke with Jesus’ family — because they were happy being Jews while Paul had other ideas.  That’s Paul, by the way, who (just going by the story here) never met Jesus ever.  Or heard his voice.  Or heard his message.

But it was Paul who ‘spread Jesus’ message’.  Except — looking over the sales materials — all the letters and epistles Paul sent to the nascent congregations of non-Jews that were flickering to life all over the Roman Empire — Paul was spreading Paul’s message a lot more than he was spreading Jesus’.

Jesus (it was never his name — just like ‘god’ is not Yahweh’s name — it’s his job description) was born, lived his whole life as and died A Jew.  If you called him a Christian to his face, he wouldn’t know what you were talking about.  And if you told the Actual Jesus (if he ever really was) what YOU now believed because YOU believed in HIM — He’d be stunned.  And he’d think you were insane.  Because very little of what YOU believe is what HE believed.

Paul started out needing to deify Jesus.  Paul traveled in messianic times.  To make his case that Jesus was a more real deal than any of the others, he needed to conform Jesus’ story to the pre-existing Hebrew mythology — all those texts we now call the Old Testament.  The messiah story had rules — and if Jesus was going to be the messiah, he had to fit into the rules.  He had to be connected to King David.  He had to be prophesied.  He had to be born in a certain place under certain conditions.

Paul broke with Jesus’ family because they didn’t want to go there.  They didn’t want or need to be part of another religion because they were perfectly happy being Jews — as Jesus had been.

If Jesus was an actual person, he existed in a world that ‘had rules’.  It worked a certain way and didn’t work in lots of other ways.  The temple hierarchy, for instance, behaved one particular way and not in a lot of other ways.  Paul (or ‘the school of Paul’) — not having been there — and having an agenda — described the scene as he needed it to be and not as it was.

Paul’s bottom line was this:  He needed a reason for Jesus’ deification — a purpose that accepting the faith would accomplish:  Salvation.  From Death.  If Jesus could be resurrected, so can you.

None of that came from Jesus.  The idea of  ‘A Church’ certainly never came from Jesus.  As I read the texts, Jesus wasn’t all that ‘down’ with the Institution.  His whole deal — as I read what JESUS SAID (and not all the other drivel put into his mouth by ‘the apostles’ — check out The Jesus Seminar — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_Seminar — it was a group of 50 bible scholars and 100 laymen, founded in 1985 with the mission of discerning, if they could, an actual human Jesus from the texts), was you can have a direct relationship with the deity; you don’t need a temple or a church (or the institution inside them) to do it.  In other words, to create a church around Jesus is to, right off the bat, do the OPPOSITE of Jesus.

But, what would Paul know?

Virtually everything about the story of Jesus’ death is a fiction.  It’s no more real than Harry Potter.  There are facts and then there’s bullshit.  To hate Jews because they ‘killed Jesus’ is bullshit.

To KILL THEM because of it?

There are no words that can adequately describe it.  Maybe one:  “ANTISEMITISM”.

 

 

 

American Culture Has A White-Christian-Male Bias & It Needs To Go

How many guilty Catholic priests does it take to screw in a light bulb?  Better question — How many guilty Catholic priests (guilty of SCREWING children) does it take before a Culture opens its damned eyes?

That blind spot isn’t the Catholic Church’s alone.  The man who sexually assaulted me worked for a synagogue.  Jews do it too.  And Protestants and Muslims.  I suspect other religions do it, too but I’m not too well-versed in their cultures; I know from Abrahamic religions — they all flow from the same toxic male bias.  The religious elements are all really just ‘overlays’ of male self-aggrandizement.  If you really, really look at them, Abrahamic religions have a nasty habit of making its male believers believe not so much ‘in’ a god as that ‘THEY THEMSELVES’ are gods.

They are not made in Yahweh’s image (Yahweh’s his name, god is his job description), Yahweh is made in theirs.

When you start out — deep down — thinking YOU are ‘the gods’ — and if YOU have control of the Culture (made much easier when you tell everyone that YOU and YOU alone can communicate with ‘the gods’) — things like ‘bias’ just sort of flow naturally.  Like toxic waste from a turd factory.

What we Americans need to grasp is that we begin every conversation or debate about who we are with a heavy bias that distorts our image.  We are NOT that thing the Culture insists we are.  We are not predominantly White-Christian-Male — and never were.

But, when you jealously guard the means to tell stories to the widest possible audience, you risk fooling yourself first and foremost.

White-Christian-Male Culture wants us all to believe their excrement smells like roses.  It doesn’t.  They know better than anyone.

They’ve stacked the deck best they can to keep hold of their Ivory Tower.  Problem is, they’re surrounded — by the rest of us.  We need to overtake them — remove them from their tower and then remove their tower, too.  It all needs to go.

It will start — shortly — with our votes.