Your Average Atheist Is Likely A Better “Follower Of Jesus” Than Your Average Christian

Seriously, how hard is it to “Do unto others”? Impossibly hard, to judge by most Christians who, somehow, have reimagined “Do unto others” as “Do what we say”. More accurately, it was all those churches those Christians belonged to their whole lives that bamboozled them into thinking that the institution and Jesus were one and the same. That is exactly why most Christians are so bad at following Jesus; in fact, they’ve NEVER followed him. They were never taught to follow him. Instead, the institutional churches that hung out their cross-shaped Jesus Shingle like he was Jesus McSaviour taught a doctrine that Jesus never imagined — because he didn’t! Jesus did not invent Christianity; Paul did. Want proof? Crack a New Testament and look who actually wrote the bulk of it. That’s “literally wrote”. We can PROVE Paul existed because we have HIS WORDS that HE PERSONALLY put to paper — the letters and epistles he sent to the far flung communities across Asia Minor that, he, personally, was nurturing with his letters.

By contrast, we can’t prove that Jesus existed except by inference. Paul’s inference mostly. But, also, the existence inferred by the existence of various gospels. Keep in mind, the canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John) were not the only gospels written about Jesus. Many more were written that didn’t “make the cut”. Jesus didn’t edit those voices from the mix, deliberately excluding them. But, the early Church DID. This is a very important detail that few people with a religious bent seem to grasp. Their religious doctrines did not just fall from the sky as they are. They were imagined and (eventually) written down over time and, at some point, SOMEONE edited them and someone else decided which of these texts were “good” and which weren’t. Who got to decide WHICH visions and versions of Jesus represented “the truth” and which represented “nonsense”? Who got to decide, for instance, that the Gnostics needed to be shut up? Surely THAT wasn’t Jesus’s doing…

Jesus was born, lived his whole life and died a Jew. Even as he expired — whoever he actually was — if you could have stuck a mic in his face to catch his last breath, he would have told you he was Jewish. Never in his life did Jesus ever meet a Christian. He never preached to one, never taught one, never washed one’s feet. In fact, everything Jesus thought and taught was implicitly Jewish — especially “DO UNTO OTHERS”. One of the core concepts inside every Jew’s head is “Tikkun Olam“. While this can be (and has been) interpreted a gazillion different ways — because that’s how religious doctrine works (versus, say, scientific doctrine) — the overwhelming majority of Jews understand it to mean that each and every one of us — regardless of how deep our religious faith is — is obligated to make the world a better place for having been in it. It’s cultural, see? One doesn’t need the fire-breathing, deeply neurotic Yahweh of the OT looking over one’s shoulder to compel one to be a good person. Just being a person, in essence, should compel one to behave that way because one has to live with others! It’s just basic, social animal common sense.

The simplicity of Tikkun Olam is that it’s born of observations about life and living it socially. There’s nothing inherently supernatural about it. The phrase first appears as mip’nei tikkun ha-olam, “for the sake of repairing the world”, in the Mishnah — the “Oral Torah” of traditions that was eventually memorialized starting in the third century BCE. The assembled Mishnah became all the practical legal measures taken to ameliorate social conditions. To make the world better in the here and now — never mind any after life. The minds who put the Mishnah together were problem solving. They weren’t designing dogma.

That’s where Paul comes in. When Saul of Tarsus had his revelation about Jesus on the road to Damascus and became “Paul The Apostle”, he was working — always — with what was inside his own head (divine inspiration notwithstanding). We don’t have to accept Paul’s word as factual — that Jesus actually appeared to him — because it happened inside Paul’s head — where all ideas originate. Whatever inspired Paul, it inspired something remarkable, all credit to it (whatever it was) but mostly to Paul who ended up doing all the heavy lifting. Paul never met Jesus in the flesh. That’s a stone cold fact that even the loopiest evangelist has to agree with. The reason Paul took his version of Jesus out to the Gentiles is precisely BECAUSE Paul never met Jesus. The Jesus in Paul’s head was not the Jesus people who knew Jesus KNEW. Paul’s Jesus said things and did things Real Jesus didn’t (according to the people who’d know).

Filled with messianic passion, but, now liberated from having to be faithful either to the original Jewish mythology or anything to do with Real Jesus, Paul took the evolving idea in his head out to a Gentile world that only knew polytheism. The Jews’ idea that their one god Yahweh superseded all previous gods was radical to begin with in that it even imagined all gods as one; it was even more radical because that god felt such a personal connection to human beings — who, the radical notion of this one god went, cared for them because he’d “created” them personally. What captivated Paul, remember, wasn’t exactly anything Jesus taught; it was the fact that Jesus — in Paul’s mind — had risen from the grave. Never mind “do unto others”, Paul saw the power of “beat death!” If Jesus could do it, Paul reasoned, then belief in Jesus could get the same results for everyone else.

The whole crux of Christian dogma is to get believers over the “beat death” hump. That’s a big lift, overcoming death, and it required a lot of “thinking” to justify it. There are no data points anywhere, but there is a lot of “thinking”. And rule-making to justify and validate that “thinking”. Suddenly unverifiable thoughts about Jesus become church rules dictating how to think about him. In 345 AD, the Church Fathers met at Nicene and wrote down a Creed spelling out exactly what “God” was. Funny thing? Jesus (remember him?) never advocated for such a thing. If Jesus HAD risen from the dead and walked in on that meeting at Nicene? He’d have looked around at a roomful of strangers talking crap that meant nothing to him.

“Why not just ‘do unto others’?” Jesus would have wondered — isn’t that simpler? Isn’t that really the point?

No, Paul would have explained to Jesus (annoyed by him already), it’s NOT the point. Now, please — go back to being dead because THAT’S the only value you have to me — as a malleable corpse.

The reason Christianity is losing its institutional grip on more and more Christians is because institutional Christianity’s promises never EVER live up to their hype. Until the day comes when they can PROVE they’ve found a way for its believers to actually “beat death”, they’ll always be selling a phony product via phony means. Meanwhile, Jesus’s message — “Do unto others” — feels fresher and more vital than ever. More necessary than ever too.

Good thing there are plenty of atheists around — unencumbered by history and dogma — to maybe teach all those poor, angry Christians how to do it.

Beware The “Franken-Christian”

In my time, I’ve written a few horror movies. The whole point of a horror movie, of course, is the monster. Good monsters endure, bad ones get forgotten instantly. I’ve written for a few “good” monsters — Freddy Krueger, for instance (I co-wrote a bunch of episodes of the “Freddy’s Nightmares” syndicated TV series back in the early 1990’s). Freddy, of course, is a great monster. Great mythology. Great character nuances (which, in a monster, are pure gold). I co-wrote “Children Of The Corn II: Deadly Harvest”. That was a crap monster, that one. Vague and mealy-mouthed (corn-meal of course). I also had a hand in the very good monster in “Tales From The Crypt Presents Demon Knight”, the first Tales feature film. Billy Zane gets full credit for turning what was, on the page, a pedestrian monster into what was, on the screen, a very good monster: fun, funny yet nasty & believably vicious. Then there was Lilith — the monster of “Tales From The Crypt Presents Bordello Of Blood” — a good idea for a good monster that got turned into a pedestrian idea for a monster because if you cast a movie for all the wrong reasons, you’ll screw up your movie. I worked with the “Walking Dead” team (briefly) when they tried to turn their show into an interactive arena event so I speak fluent “zombie”. While working on Tales From The Crypt, one of my bosses was Richard Donner, the director of horror classic “The Omen” whose wisdom about good monsters I drank like the finest, Jim Jones-iest kool aid. Yeah… I know a thing or two about monsters. And We The People have one right in our faces: The Franken-Christian!

How else to explain the mind-bending trip from “Do unto others” to this — the above picture. Or this —

What’s a non-Christian to make of American Christianity when it paints itself the way it paints itself? There’s no Jesus in any of this whatsoever. And yet, THIS monster has what it claims is Jesus’s face. Reminds me of a really good “Tales” episode directed by a talented guy named Bill Malone and starring a really terrific actress named Sherrie Rose: “Only Skin Deep”. A confident alpha male picks up a mysterious, masked woman named Molly at a costume party. Goes back to her place (in a funky warehouse space) where they have great sex — except she never takes off her weird mask. As the confident alpha male will learn, that “mask” is the face of Molly’s last lover — and she’ll be wearing HIS face when she goes out to party next time.

Molly was a very, very good monster.

Maybe the problem with too many American Christians is that they don’t celebrate Jesus’s life nearly as much as they celebrate his death. They’re less interested in “doing unto others” than they are in the ooga-booga and magical thinking that the Apostle Paul created out of whole cloth as he took his version of Jesus — and Jesus’s teaching — out to the Gentile world. The Jews rejected Paul’s version of Jesus because many of them, unlike Paul, had actually MET Jesus and heard him teach. Also — the Jews knew their mythology and knew that what Paul was trying to do with it simply didn’t conform to their understanding of it. Paul had little use for a living Jesus. He would have had no use for a Jesus who lived to a ripe old age and died in his bed, surrounded by loved ones. Paul needed a Jesus who was dead but (most importantly) who ROSE from the dead. Paul needed a Jesus who beat death as the basis for the church he imagined. It’s a genius invention — but that is what is: an invention. Jesus has nothing to do with it.

Ah, but “Franken-Jesus” does. Put together from disconnected parts, the Franken-Jesus preaches “do unto others” while practicing no such thing.

His followers, by design, are all Franken-Christians. They worship the falsest of idols.

And thus, the horror movie of American life fades in…

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.

White People Are Making A Hash Of Democracy — Just Like They Did To Christianity

In a sense, white people are like George W. Bush — born on third base but thinking they hit a triple to get there. The playing field in America has never been level for anyone except white people. That’s because they can only see themselves. Where the rest of America sees privilege, white America sees entitlement. Brilliant idea that “All men are created equal” is, it gets kneecapped immediately if “All men” actually means “all WHITE men”. And by “white men”, they mean THEMSELVES. Democracy’s the hardest form of government to pull off because it’s self-government. It requires every citizen get involved at least by voting if not by running for office; America’s founders never imagined a “professional class” of politicians would end up running America. But then, white people, it turns out, don’t get everything right contrary to how they think of themselves. There’s something in the northern European makeup — as exercised here in America — that despises democracy. At least, that’s how they behave toward it. Or is their problem actually democracy when it’s practiced by everyone not them?

That sounds remarkably undemocratic. But then, is there anything less Christian then your basic, white supremacist? Don’t tell them that however. In their minds? They could teach the world what it means to be a “real” Christian.

Jesus himself would probably disagree with them. In response, your basic white supremacist Christian would probably crucify Jesus all over again, happily nailing him to a cross all by themselves. Isn’t that what dirty Jews deserve anyway?

Personally, I blame monotheism. It concentrates every bit of divine power into one set of very mercurial, highly emotional, at times downright cruel hands. Yahweh is a deity only humans could create — he’s that riddled with human frailty. When a monotheist claims to understand what Yahweh wants, what are they really claiming? How about if they hear Yahweh’s voice in their heads? I promise you it’s not the same voice that the monotheist standing next to them hears. That’s not Yahweh magically making himself over inside each different human’s head, that’s each human inventing Yahweh in his or her own image. The Yahweh they hear is them.

The crusades claimed to speak for Jesus. So did the Spanish Inquisition and every pogrom. To plenty of Germans, the Holocaust was divine justice. When you get down to it, you can make the voice in your head say anything you want. And, since you’ve given that voice divine authority, what it wants can’t be denied since “God” wants it.

The institutional church uses “Do unto others” as a kind of marketing pitch and a guide for the faithful. While the flock happily “does unto each other”, the institutional church to preaches “Do what we say — or else”. Do it our way. The problem — as the church keeps learning — the more the flock learns about how life really is the less inclined the flock is to do it the church’s way — and the smaller the flock gets. If the institutional churches had really and truly preached and lived by “Do unto others”, their fortunes might be very different today. But then, they wouldn’t be institutional churches anymore. They’d have nothing to do. Just like Jesus said…

The Europeans who embraced Jesus in the abstract would have hated him in person. For starters, he was a Jew. Born, lived and died one. Europeans hated Jews. Still do. So, the Christianity they practice is Jesus-free but institution-rich, completely missing the point. Throw in the fact that most of them (even if they can’t see it) see themselves as deities. Poor Jesus — he never stood a chance.

Once you see yourself as “graced by God”, everything you do becomes “divinely inspired” even if it’s killing people. Even if it’s enslaving people. Or taking their land because your deity tells you it’s okay with him. “All men are created equal” is the Christianity analog. All actual human beings — that’s Jesus. White people think democracy applies to them. Others, not so much. The idea of “others” controlling what white people do via the political process horrifies white people because white people know how THEY act when all the political power is concentrated in their hands.

White people know how they “do unto others” and the last thing on earth they want is anyone else doing that unto them. That’s why Republicanism in America is so anti-democratic. It’s the white guy’s version of a really good idea that plays as a bad idea to everyone else. But that’s only because white people aren’t trying to be democratic.

They’re trying to undermine democracy just like they undermined Christianity. Their track record should scare the hell out of everyone not them.

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…

One Doesn’t Have To Buy An Ounce Of Dogma To “Do Unto Others” — One Just Has To DO IT

Imagine inventing something amazing, world-beating, life-changing — and not knowing it. To be clear: The Apostle Paul did not invent the idea of “Do unto others”. That is a core directive that every Jew understands as their obligation — to make the world a better place for having been here. As most people understand simply because we’re social creatures, If you treat others as you’d have them treat you — you’ll make the rest of your work a thousand times easier. “Do unto others” is “How To Live Successfully As A Human In One Easy Lesson”. It’s golden, as messages go. Best part? Literally anyone can do it — regardless of anything else they think or believe. It’s the most universal message there is…

SECOND most universal message apparently. The church’s other universal message: “no one wants to die, right? Well, WE have a way for you to BEAT death!” In order to do that however, it was going to get tricky. Doing unto others is one thing. Not dying is something else entirely — and there are rules one must follow if one wants to get it done. Hello, dogma!

In a sense, the hook is “Do unto others and you, too, can defeat death!” except it’s not “doing unto others” that buys you the “defeat death” ticket. It’s believing. That’s the church’s pitch: if you’re willing to accept that what we’re telling you is absolutely true — that by believing in our version of Jesus — to the letter — you, too, can “defeat death” and “live forever’ in a place called “heaven” where you and everyone you love can live happily and blissfully ever after!

That, really, was Paul’s invention — which sold amazingly well to the gentile world (who had no background in the Jewish mythology Paul was building upon but also changing so as to make Jesus fit better into it). It helps to know this as you look at Christianity and its effect on every life it’s touched — believer and non-believer. The Jews weren’t trying to sell their idea to the world. It didn’t occur to them that the world even wanted it. Most Jews do not proselytize because Judaism is culture and faith. You can’t convert into a culture per se; you have to be “born” into it. Jewish faith and culture are deeply related of course but one doesn’t have to buy into the faith to be deeply touched by the culture. A Jew wouldn’t ask “Have ya heard the good news?” because she’d be too busy “doing unto others”.

If the “good news” those professing Christianity spread was how to better “Do unto others”, that’d be awesome. It’s not however. It never was. The deal always is buy what we’re preaching first in order to get the magic. Accept the dogma to get the bone. Sorry, but I’m on a strict no dogma diet. I guess I’ll have to live without the bone.

In the meantime, I’ll content myself by doing unto others.

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.