Living At The Mercy Of A Lie

Though the news media has placed Donald Trump’s “final lie tally” above 30,000 (that means Trump must have lied on average 21 times a day), the truth is, Trump lied every single time he opened that anus-shaped mouth of his. For starters, there’s “The Big Lie” itself. We have a political party hewing to what everyone agrees is “a big lie”. Think about that! But then, Trump’s entire presidency was a lie. Trump was never, EVER, the legitimate POTUS. That’s not a political assessment, it’s a criminal justice assessment.

Just because we can’t officially call a car thief “a car thief” until he’s convicted for his car thievery, that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t a car thief every moment before we convicted him. In fact, he was a car thief the entire time. For reasons of fairness to the thief, we refused to acknowledge the stone cold truth about him until late in the game. In a sense, we were living inside a kind of “lie-adjacent” that the car thief was an honest actor and a good citizen when the truth stayed the same the whole time: he was and remains a criminal. At least, that’s a lie with a higher purpose.

The authority to govern flows from the election process. We elect people to govern us on our behalf. The assumption, of course, is that our elections are free and fair as is their tabulation. I’m not sure that’s ever really been the case here in America. White people have actively worked to keep everyone not them from voting since the founders stood by “All men are created equal” without actually meaning it. The truth of America has always been “E Pluribus Unum”. But white people — the descendants of white, Christian, mostly Northern European heritage — have always seen America through blinders of their own invention. That’s why America remains a great idea as yet unrealized. Because we persist in living not just one lie, but multiple lies — and every last one of them is a product of racism.

As Virginia holds an election today, our (always perspective-free) news media has made the tightening poll numbers for Virginia’s governor a referendum on Joe Biden, completely ignoring the fact that the Republican candidate — Glenn Youngkin — has made “critical race theory” the entire thrust of his campaign. The news media understands — they report it — that everything about the “critical race theory” debate is utter horse shit. More to the point — that it’s racist! But, because our news media never aggregates stories about Republicans (they still think Republicans — even as they stand beside insurrection and insurrectionists — are “honest actors”) and never questions their motives the way they question every Progressive’s, Youngkin tossing overt racism into the mix is just another “legitimate campaign strategy”. It’s not! It’s racism,, pure and simple! And that means that the reason the gubernatorial election in Virginia is close has zero to do with Joe Biden (who our news media insists this is about) and everything to do with racism.

But then, our news media thinks it’s up to racists to decide if they’re racists — so, when it comes to the whole topic of racism, our news media remains intensely white in their framing and viewpoint. Why would a journalist ask a racist if they’re racist? How the hell would they know? Unless they want to be a pariah, of course they’re going to deny being racist. FFS, Trump still insists he’s the “least racist person ever”. Anyone buying? No? So why ask this racist his opinion about anything related to race?

Right — because we insist on living inside a lie that racists can determine whether or not they’re racist.

Having been born in 1959, fourteen years after the death camps were liberated, I grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust in a large, upper middle class Jewish suburb of Baltimore. My community didn’t shy away from the murder that had just been visited upon us. Even Jews who couldn’t point to an actual family member, felt the camps’ breath on them. I grew up identifying completely with the boy in this famous photo —

“Why me?” his eyes shout. “What did I ever do?”

The Holocaust was the product of nearly two thousand years of aggregated Jew hatred. What made Germany’s take on genocide so much more successful than any previous genocide was industrialization. Germany applied factory work dynamics to the murder of human beings. Jews became a commodity. If an individual Jew had value as a slave worker (that’s what you are when you work for free — a slave), they were kept alive (and then worked to death). If they had no value upon entering the camps, they were disposed of in the cheapest way possible. My first Hebrew School teache had a number tattooed into her forearm. She wasn’t shy about reminding us that she was among the “lucky ones”.

Where did such intense, homicidal anger come from? Why, it came from a lie, of course…

Ask almost one hundred percent of Christians where Christianity came from — what it’s actual origin story was — and they will get it wrong. More likely, they have no idea. The Truth was made irrelevant at the start, having been replaced by pure, unadulterated mythology. Jesus did not invent Christianity. He was born, lived his entire life and died a Jew. He taught Jewish lessons and mythology to other Jews who understood the context in which Jesus taught and spoke. When the priestly Saul of Tarsus “came to Jesus” on the road to Damascus and reinvented himself as “The Apostle Paul”, he set out to spread what he said was Jesus’s message. But, when he arrived in Jerusalem, Paul got pushback from Jesus’s family. The Jesus Paul had in his head wasn’t actual Jesus (Jeshua ben Joseph).

But, Paul persisted. Whether Jesus’s family believed (as Paul did) that their family member was the messiah, we don’t know. Regardless, Paul was better at it. And, when Paul turned away from the Jews (who’d rejected him and his version of Jesus) and took his version out to the Gentiles, he did it knowing he now had free rein to make “Jesus” into anything he wanted “Jesus” to be. None of the Greeks or Romans living in the far flung communities of Asia Minor to whom Paul wrote his letters and epistles were familiar with any of the Jewish mythology Paul was altering to make his version of Jesus fit into the larger accumulated Jewish messiah myths.

To appreciate Paul (and I think the guy was an absolute genius!), you have to see the world he was marketing his ideas to. He was, mostly, converting polytheists to monotheism (well, a kind of monotheism). Polytheist gods weren’t divine the way Yahweh (the Hebrews’ God — the one we now call “God”) was. And polytheistic gods weren’t really concerned with humans in any significant way. They certainly didn’t see humans as their creation the way Yahweh did. That was the first major disruptive change: Yahweh was a god who cared about humans because he personally created us.

Paul took that spiritual innovation and improved upon it. By the time Paul was done reimagining the Jewish mythology, he had this construct. All human beings are sinful because of Eve’s original sin in Eden. The only redemption available to sinning humans is via Jesus, who died in order to redeem humanity’s sins. And — bonus points (the point of the whole exercise in fact) — if the believer is willing to believe in Jesus and his story exactly the way the church teaches (to the letter!) then that believer can, like Jesus, conquer death.

That, in a nutshell, is Christianity’s sales pitch: believe in it and beat death. You can’t take away from its genius because we’re still talking about it.

Now, once you get into the actual tick tock of Jesus’s story (as cobbled together by the early church fathers from various third, fourth and fifth-hand accounts), you bump into myriad contradictions and fractured logic. Just for starters, if the whole point of Jesus is to redeem humanity via his death, then Jesus NOT dying would be a problem for Christianity. Does Paul have the same vision on the road to Damascus if Jesus dies in his bed, an old man surrounded by his loved ones (including wife and many children)? What’s his basis for Jesus’s messiah-hood then?

For the story/mythology logic to work, Jesus must die. Well, if that’s the case, then Judas’ betrayal is as essential to eternal life as Jesus’s dying. No betrayal, no crucifixion. No crucifixion, no Christianity. I won’t even bother with all the factual problems Paul’s (and the early Church’s) version of events presents. But then, Paul didn’t care about historical accuracy. In fact, historical accuracy was Paul’s enemy.

As it was the enemy of the church Paul’s letters and epistles was forming.

“Do unto others” is a simple teaching with profound implications. That did not interest Paul. In his defense, new religions need new rules. If new rules are going to stick (or be held out as divine), they have to carry weight. Ritual is essential to religion (as it is to most things humans do). But, the moment ritual becomes dogmatic, it starts to service itself and not the person performing the ritual. “Do unto others” becomes “Do what we say — or else!” Those aren’t the same messages.

“Jews killed Jesus” is, top to bottom, no true. Paul spreading it — knowing it wasn’t true — made it a lie. It has always been thus. The entire history of European anti-Semitism is based on this lie. The Holocaust was that lie’s biggest, ugliest, cruelest, most successful iteration.

So, lying on a cultural level is nothing new to us. Hey, “War On Christmas” anyone? “All men are created equal” is a bit of a lie if you consider that the men who wrote and stood by it didn’t mean “all men” though they did mean “only men”. Our news media is a product of white hegemony culture. That’s what pays the bills and their salaries. So, it’s hardly surprising that they frame everything from an embarrassingly white perspective. But, part of that bad framing insists that bad actors are good actors and criminals acting for political purposes are no different from the victims of their criminal behavior; a vote suppressor and the voter being suppressed “both do it” by this thinking.

That is a stinking lie.

Living a lie is exhausting. Living the GOP’s lie is potentially lethal to the republic. We The People need to call this lie out for every bit of the lie that it is. For the majority of Americans, the Truth will absolutely set us free. That same Truth will put a whole lot of Republicans behind bars forever.

There’s No Such Thing As A “Fake Christian”; There Are Only “Christians”

Want to know what makes an atheist laugh? Hearing one Christian call another Christian “fake”. FFS, that’s what the whole Protestant Reformation was! One group of Christians calling the other group “fake“. From the vantage of point of non-Christendom? What are both groups talking about? Hey — ever Google “Protestantism sects”? There are more than you can count (if you count them all!) And then there’s Catholicism. And all the national churches and Eastern churches… And then there’s Mormonism — and its offshoots. From outside that tent, everyone INSIDE the tent is a Christian!

Look, I’m one of those Jews who’s always been fascinated by Christianity. Originally, I needed to know how and why tens of millions of people hated me and wanted me dead simply because I was Jewish.

Can we be honest? The answer you get back — why Christians hate Jews — it’s not especially satisfying.

Or logical.

Having grown up in the shadow of the Holocaust (I was born in 1959, fourteen years after the camps were liberated), I’m keenly aware where extreme anti-Semitism leads. That’s what the Holocaust was — Jew hatred taken to its most horrifying, industrial conclusion. This perverse, genocidal compulsion is based on a poorly thought-out story that was invented by Paul and the early church fathers. The former Saul of Tarsus never met Jesus. Never heard Jesus preach or teach. That’s why Paul’s version of Jesus didn’t play in Jerusalem or for anyone who knew Jesus or who actually did hear Jesus speak. That’s why Paul took his version of Jesus — and a thousand years of made-up Jewish messiah mythology — to the Gentiles (who had no background in it as Paul did and so accepted what the Jews in Jerusalem rejected).

It’s Paul — a real person — writing about Jesus — that makes me think someone “like” Jesus probably walked the earth. But, Paul revised Jesus to suit the needs of the newfangled offshoot-of-Judaism he was inventing on the fly. Paul was doing something else too — and this is where his real genius lies. The Roman world was polytheistic. Judaism was monotheistic; it rejected all of the Roman gods because, Judaism believed, only one god — Yahweh — existed. Roman gods, like most polytheistic gods, were very different in nature from the Jews’ Yahweh. They weren’t made of different material. Their lives only occasionally intersected with mortals’ lives. Though divine, polytheistic gods offered humans nothing of the divine.

Yahweh on the other hand was different. Not only was he divine, he (sometimes) liked humans (when he wasn’t flooding them out). He seemed to want to like us; we just kept disappointing him. Paul reinvents Yahweh by making Jesus Yahweh’s son. That’s not a big deal in and of itself. But then — here’s the genius part — Paul has Jesus rise from the dead, defeating death while also dying for humanity’s sins (the original sin being Eve’s)! Paul’s God (not entirely monotheistic since he can replicate by breeding with humans), unlike polytheistic gods, promises to actually DO something for humans other than just punish them. And that thing God will do for you is something only God can do — all you have to do is believe in Jesus exactly the way the Church (God’s now-infallible spokesman on earth) tells you to.

“Do unto others” has become “Do what we say — or else”. Not that the institutional church ever had the least interest in Jesus or any of his teachings. If Jesus were to return from the dead, the biggest enemies he’d have would be the institutional churches who’d race to the media to declare this “Jesus Guy” a total fraud. Oh, the irony — how it burns! Jesus taught that no one needs a corrupt temple or its correct priests in order to have a relationship with “the father”. “Talk directly to God,” Jesus taught. Anyone — atheists included — could “Do unto others” like a pro. And certainly better than any Christian.

There’s a clear distinction between “Christians” and “followers of Jesus”. My heart goes out to followers of Jesus because of what Christians have done to the brand.

Whoever Jesus really was, it’s simply a fact that he was born, lived his entire life and died a Jew. He preached Jewish thoughts to other Jews — even if Jesus’s version of those thoughts were somewhat “radical” (ignoring the Temple and its priests because they were corrupt). At the core of Jesus’s teaching — we all agree — is “Do unto others”. And “Do unto others” is a magnificent way to live Life. Imagine how much better the world would be if everyone lived that way — including (or especially) Christians. “Do unto others” is a very Jewish teaching. It’s a graceful distillation of a core Jewish concept: “Tikkun Olam”.

Every Jew (every person really) is obligated — according to Tikkun Olam — to make the world a better place for having been in it. One doesn’t have to accept this obligation (plenty of people don’t), but, if you want to live a good life, making the world better is how you’ll do it. Now, in all fairness to Christians, Christians don’t have a “culture” in the way Jews do where a way of life and a way of faith co-exist. While one absolutely can convert into the Jewish faith (a relatively rare things as Jews don’t proselytize), one can’t convert into the Jewish culture. Ashkenazis — European Jews — were excluded from European culture for 1500 years. They weren’t allowed to live with Christians. Weren’t allowed to marry them. Certainly weren’t allowed to make babies with them (though I’m sure babies made from male Christians raping Jewish women wasn’t a problem for them).

Consequently, Jews lived apart in their own villages or, as they first started to do in Venice in the early 1500’s — in “ghettos”. The word is Italian and first referred to the islands in the Venetian archipelago where the Jews were allowed to live. Living apart caused Jews to evolve a culture separate from white Europe’s. It caused Jews to evolve their own genetic disorder — Tay Sachs disease. Jews never set out to be “different”, that was something European Christianity made us.

Can we be just a little bit more honest? The way Christians have treated Jews across fifteen hundred years of history has not been especially “Christian”. Or maybe it has been — and every single person calling themselves “Christian” is, in fact, a “fake”.

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.

John Lewis Was A Case Study In HOW We Could “Do Unto Others”

I once wrote an episode of The Outer Limits (the reboot on Showtime) about a cool future technology that’s used for dark, nefarious purposes. Yeah, that could be pretty much any sci-fi story. This tech asked a question — what if we could take the talents, skill sets or abilities from one person and “implant them” into another person?

The downside to this technology — in the episode — was that the skill set couldn’t be in two places at once. If it was being implanted into someone else, it’s because it no longer existed in its original host. In the episode, the character “Mad” Joe Dell’s legendary jazz chops could be removed from Joe Dell and given to someone who’d bought them — from the company that took them from Joe Dell.

The excellent Bill Cobb plays the character Joe Dell — a legendary jazz musician whose jazz talent gets “taken” from him by a new technology — and implanted into someone else — who’s paid to get it.

Joe Dell (and most of his family), thought Joe was moving into a retirement community. There was no explanation for his rapid decline into total dementia — and then his death. But Joe hadn’t actually died. He’d been warehoused — until every last drop of his jazz chops could be squeezed from him.

The episode ended happily. Joe’s teenaged grandson Ronnie catches on to the monstrous scam being pulled and gets his grandfather back — legendary jazz chops mostly complete. So, here’s my storyteller’s sighed “What if…?”

What if we could transplant John Lewis’ legendary humanity, his empathy and humility into the heads of every single Republican?

But the “skill set” we’re talking about isn’t like jazz talent. It doesn’t require all the micro-skills being a jazz legend demands. All this skill set requires is that we care about other people at least as much as we care about ourselves. Ya know — “Do unto others” and all that.

What if we could get Republicans to “Do unto others” like it was a super power? Or a normal human capacity…

Imagine if Mitch McConnell forgot how to be a cynical treason turtle and, instead, cared about America and every human living within its borders.

Imagine if Bill Barr put down his perverse Dominionism and, instead took up Jesus’ message.

Imagine if Mike Pence’s sanctimony suddenly morphed into love of something other than Donald Trump’s ass.

Imagine if every single Republican who thought Jesus wanted them to be rich vs decent suddenly realized, “NO! HE WANTS US TO BE DECENT!”

We won’t bother imagining any scenario where Donald Trump suddenly acquires humanity. Mary Trump’s book spelled it out clearly and emphatically: Trump has no capacity for humanity and probably never did. He’s a sociopath just like his daddy. Indecency is hard-wired into Trump’s corrupt DNA.

But, if everyone else suddenly acquired John Lewis’ innate decency — if every Republican who’s enabled Trump (in other words, every Republican who still proudly calls themselves “Republican”) — then we wouldn’t have a problem with Trump. Our collective decency would not tolerate his presence.

He’d be gone already and no longer a clear & present danger.

I know — that’s why stories are stories and reality is reality.

But a storyteller can dream, can’t he?

In A Way, The Rule Of Law Is “Do Unto Others” With Teeth

The genius of our Constitution for all its failings — and it’s got some serious failings (it gave all the political power to white men and we’re still dealing with slavery ffs) — is its establishment of the Rule Of Law as its organizing principle. The bottom line for law-making isn’t the whim of some Donald-Trump-like king, it’s a mutually agreed-upon set of rules that go to great lengths to spell out what we can — and cannot — do to each other.

Put another way, the Rule Of Law describes what we can and cannot “do unto each other”.

Do something unto your neighbor that you legally shouldn’t (like, say, murder her?) — the Law will do unto you. The Law — striving for fairness (and wanting to give each of us the chance to do the right thing) — doesn’t look to see what’s in our hearts unless we violate the Rule Of Law. And then it wants to know “why?”

In asking “why” we broke the Rule Of Law, the Law wants to prescribe a cure — not just for the crime itself but for the motivation. Did you kill someone deliberately or accidentally? That’s an important distinction. And if you killed someone deliberately, was violating their rights part of your goal — because violating someone else’s rights is as bad as stealing from their house. You took something of theirs that was theirs. In other words — killing someone is one crime and killing them because of who they are — a thing they have the right to be — is another crime.

You didn’t just kill them, you killed their right to be them.

The overwhelming majority of us want the Rule Of Law standing between us. Our problem isn’t with the Rule Of Law after all, it’s with its unequal application. Like integrity, the Rule Of Law is an all or nothing proposition. You can walk around with 99% of your integrity intact, but eventually that 1% will catch up to you. It won’t say 1%. Corruption grows with coronavirus ferocity. Just like a virus, corruption reproduces inside of us; it needs to infect our cells so completely that we spew its darkness, infecting others.

And a lot of that infection goes on undetected. It’s the most dangerous part of the iceberg, lurking under the surface.

The majority of us want others to do unto us as we do unto them. We want to be treated fairly because we want everyone to be treated fairly and we want everyone to be treated fairly because we want to be treated fairly.

As I often say here, devout atheist though I am, I consider myself a big Fan Of Jesus. He is not the church that Paul built out of the idea of Jesus — the idea of Jesus as Messiah as opposed to Jesus as Teacher with a simple but profound message (Do Unto Others). Even a simple atheist like myself can manage to Do Unto Others without hurting ourselves — or compromising ourselves.

The moral outrage we all feel now like our skin was on fire is our “Do Unto Other” way of thinking colliding with hypocrisy. The people clutching onto power have always preached “Do Unto Others” without every practicing it themselves. Actually, they practice their own perverse offshoot — “Do unto others before they can do unto you”.

One place where the Rule Of Law differs slightly with Jesus is in its approach to “turning the other cheek”. The Rule Of Law says that if someone violated the Rule Of Law at your expense, you don’t have to turn the other cheek. You don’t get to seek revenge on them but you do get to instruct them — by pointing out in great detail what they did wrong — what that will cost them in time and heartache and financial loss — and how they might get better (so as not to do it again). Being human, we haven’t gotten everything about the Rule Of Law right.

As we know — we still haven’t gotten anywehre close to applying it equally.

But, as Jesus would have us do — we strive to be better. No one — Jesus included — ever said doing unto others was easy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cost nothing — feels great!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I stand in awe of the cosmos regardless.

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

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

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

“I don’t know yet.”

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

“I don’t know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ignore the guard. Savor the cosmos.

Dear Rich People: Your Money Will Not Comfort You As You Die

My wife and I finally caught up with HBO’s amazing “Succession”. We’re about to finish season one. The Roy family — mirrored after the Murdoch’s — are an object lesson in what happens when a family substitutes money for love in all its relationships. Spoiler Alert: the relationships always lose.

I’ve never been flat broke. Never been homeless. I’ve always had someone I could throw myself at if I got beyond desperate. I’ve always been lucky that way. But I have lost everything I’ve worked for. I’ve declared bankruptcy and lost my family’s home. That was after being relatively rich. Being in show business — and having succeeded at it — I’ve had many years making very good money. Shame depression robbed me of some very prime years but — that’s Life, ya know?

What coming back from deep, deep depression taught me was very fundamental. Things — possessions — really don’t matter. Only love does. When you get to that final moment — when your sentientness recognizes it’s about to stop being sentient — a taking of stock will occur. You will recognize what you can “take with you” — what will you be remembered for most in a headline-only culture?

If it’s being rich over being loved, that final moment will be even more irksome for you as you realize, holy shit, they were right — you can’t take it with you. The money stays here. It couldn’t give a damn about you. You’re just a warm place where it parked for a while. And now that you’re dead, dead, dead, it will find someplace else to hang out. Meanwhile your “loved ones” become increasingly ironic in name: “loved ones”.

What makes the Roy family in “Succession” soooooo much fun to watch is that they ring so painfully true — the rich love their money far more than they could ever love each other. They honestly do believe that the goal is the biggest pile of money rather than being the most (genuinely) loved.

Ah, but what do we mean by “loved”?

Let me throw down an example — poor guy — never had a dime (or a shekel) to his name. He preached a simple (frankly Judaic) message: above all, love — do unto others as you would have them do unto you; if you have two brain cells, that “unto” is “love”.

I don’t know where the fictionalized Murdochs will end up, but I know where the real ones are heading. It’s all the same place: The rich Father who everyone despises will end up so despised (because he valued money over everything) that the money he so loved will end up in someone else’s hands (someone he hates perhaps) precisely because those who should have loved him didn’t. Couldn’t. Wouldn’t.

The die was cast, turns out, at the beginning. Tragedy is inevitability with scene breaks. The values tied to money over humanity were delivered via mother’s milk. Such is doom.

Again, remember — there’s a big, big difference between how we, here in the outside world, see the Rich (imagining that their money has solved every problem they could possibly have) and how the Rich see the Rich. There, on the inside, they know how loveless it is. They know how no serious relationship can ever happen without legal scrutiny first because, well, THE MONEY.

Sounds like slavery to me.

We’re in a war here. The rich — having gotten richer — want to be richer still. The Republican Party has launched an outright coup d’etat — they’ve busted a cap in the Rule Of Law and tossed the body out into the street as a warning to us. They’re not screwing around. They intend to install permanent minority rule whether we like it or not.

That was the point of election 2016 (the coup d’etat) and now election 2020 (the coup de grace just without the grace).

Ah, but Republicans have one big problem. They’re a minority. When push comes to shove and people REALLY take sides? I bet those willing to “die for Trump” is a far, far smaller circle of crazy than we suspect.

They’re schoolyard bullies relying to their reputation as schoolyard bullies to cow us into submission. Those bullies have a bigger problem than the first one actually. The people standing up to them? Women. Lots and lots of women. And people of color too. Lots and lots and LOTS of them. When we restore the Rule Of Law to its rightful place and begin to live up to the ideals on which this country was founded, we will owe a massive debt of gratitude to African American women.

Despite everything this nation has heaped on them as a group and as individuals, they have remained constant. They saw through this country’s racist awfulness to the ideal we were betraying and held firmly to it. If we do survive this, we will owe a hell of a lot of that to them.

Their faithfulness should be our ideal. Their capacity to love despite the harshness of their circumstances should be a daily lesson about survival, hope and courage.

My group can relate a little. We’ve been kicked around a bit by the Christian world. We still ache to contribute to it regardless. Go figure.

There’s a saying in the Talmud (I mention this as an atheist but a cultural Jew) that resonates with me: “Save one life and you save the world”. I think Jesus had that idea in mind when (if) he preached. He wasn’t about churches and their rules — in fact, Jesus taught that one didn’t need the temple or any of its priests; one could speak directly to God. And God, Jesus taught, would listen.

Jesus also taught how unimportant money was in the greater scheme of things. Those following that teaching — those already doing unto others — get it. When you love other people as much and as best you can, you get a remarkable amount of love flowing back at you. That’s REAL wealth. And when it comes to building actual wealth — it’s a good place to start from.

Will one ever get Roy-Murdoch-Republican wealthy by loving other people instead of money? Of course not. But then, who wants to end one’s days in the poor house like they always do?

Show Me A Person Who Claims To “Speak For God” & I’ll Show You A Person Who Thinks They ARE “God”

This really should be a no-brainer. Ask ten theists what “God” is & you will get ten distinctly different answers.

Ask 10 ardent theists — evangelicals, say — what “God” is and, if you listen really closely, what you’ll get is a person describing themselves. The absolutes and the moral imperatives heavy with the weight of Ultimate Decision-Making which are so far beyond the understanding of mere mortals don’t perturb the uber-religious. You see, THEIR minds CAN parse the subtleties and nuances of Divine Intent. They understand “the code”. They — unlike you or I — communicate with God on a much higher level than mere words. God thinks a thing and voila — it appears magically inside THEIR head so that THEY can dispense it to us.

That is how most theists think. It’s impossible for anyone to contradict them, of course, because no one else can crawl inside their head — the place where these divine messages were generated AND received. They can’t “prove” they DID receive a message but then, in their world, no one has to prove anything. Your word is your bond no matter how nonsensical your word is.

“God told me to do it” goes right back to Abraham coming within inches of sacrificing Isaac — the thing he loved more than life itself (supposedly). It must be “supposedly” because Abraham loved the voice in his head more than his son. He was willing to satisfy the voice’s need for loyalty over his child’s need for Life. This is the angry, self-centered, vengeful and markedly male god at the center of Abrahamic faith.

Even this deity’s “path to redemption” is boiled in blood. His own “son” has to die a horrible death so mankind can be forgiven for the character Eve biting into an apple. Think about the people who insist that these stories, steeped in metaphor and allegory and all kinds of literary device (being written as they were by creative humans) are literal truth. It’s no wackier than someone insisting the every book in the Dr. Seuss canon is literal truth.

The luxury of selling bullshit is that you never, ever have to back it up. There are no warranties, no service contracts. There’s just the sucker you took — their money in your hand and your bullshit in theirs.

Pick a televangelist — Franklin Graham… Kenneth Copeland… Benny Hinn… Joel OSteen… Listen to them get down to business. Listen to how they speak for the deity in whose service they supposedly work. Then actually THINK about it. What did they study to gain this ability? They studied THE BIBLE. They studied a work of literature whose history (how it came together) they probably don’t even know.

In other words — they studied a book of mostly fiction in order to claim expertise on dealing with reality. If the (mostly) men who wrote the texts that, in time, were assembled into the Pentateuch (the OT) and the NT had had access to the internet, if they had had microscopes at their disposal and telescopes — if they had known about germ theory and understood (having seen hard evidence) that the earth was NOT at the center of the Universe — you can bet they wouldn’t have written their texts the way they wrote them because it wouldn’t have made sense to THEM.

The NT & OT texts reflect a great deal of very real (but honest) ignorance. The people who wrote the OT & NT, by the way, didn’t know that more than one continent existed. Hell, they didn’t even know what continents were. If these texts were so divinely inspired, why didn’t the deity who supposedly created the universe have any insight into how the universe actually works?

Every time there’s a hint of “intelligent design” in the mix, we get a strong whiff of how stupid this “intelligent designer” actually is. This guy couldn’t design “hitting water” after falling out of a boat in the middle of the sea. He’s so inept even his union wants him gone.

There’s nothing wrong with taking “spiritual guidance” from the pages of the NT and OT. Personally, I’d say the spiritual guidance those texts advocate is dubious — but that’s just my opinion. The point is, they’re just “guidance” written by people a long, long time ago. People telling you today that those words were literally written by a magical man in the sky — or inspired by him — are bypassing spiritual guidance for ooga-booga.

Spirituality is you and things much larger than you — cosmically larger. How do you see and define that relationship? That’s your spirituality. Even a stone cold atheist, when gazing up at the cosmos, cannot help feeling awe. We live in an awesome universe. It’s so awesome in fact that we don’t even fully understand it yet.

Religion is someone trying to quantify your spirituality. They’re trying to tell you “how” to “practice” your spirituality. But, is that your spirituality they’re talking about — or “theirs”? Trick question — of course it’s theirs! They don’t give a toss about YOUR spirituality. They’re not selling yours, they’re selling theirs.

And they need you to buy theirs because building and maintaining churches is an expensive proposition. They really are black holes of cash. Most religion is trying to get YOU to help pay off THEIR shitty “time share” investment. That takes money. And getting the money it takes to flow in reliably enough requires bodies — paying members in your congregation. Oh — there’s probably a priest or a rabbi to pay for, too.

When televangelist John Hagee looks out at you and implores you to send him money, it’s not because he wants to feed your soul. He’s got expenses. Hard, hard expenses. A bank load that he cannot default on — or else. Or, maybe he’s REALLY rich and owns his own building outright. Then it’s just the upkeep he’s worried about. And his salary.

Ever see this incredible piece of tape where Kenneth Copland explains why this “spokesman for Jesus” needs a private jet to get from place to place? It’s all you need to know about most modern Christianity, televangelism, Kenneth Copeland and bullshit in general.

Look at Kenneth’s eyes in the clip. It’s a great acting job (well, not “great” so much as just an acting job that he’s committed to in his own embarrassingly over-the-top kinda way). Is that a man working in service of a higher power — or does he have it in his head that the reason he can’t fly with “riff-raff” is because GOD don’t fly with riff-raff — and he (make no mistake) is God?

If we take Jesus at his word (meaning if we look at the dozen or so things the various gospels agree Jesus might have said — keeping in mind that none of the actual gospel-writers ever met Jesus or heard his voice or words — one of his core messages is you don’t need a temple or its priests to communicate with God. Any believer can skip the intermediary and speak directly to “The Father”.

If that’s true, then why would one need a Kenneth Copeland or a Franky Graham or any of those sideshow geeks? One wouldn’t. One doesn’t.

One never did. But then, if everyone understood that, Ken & Frank & Benny would all have to find honest work.

What a sad come-down that would be for a mediocre deity.

The More A Person Loves Their Church, The Less Spiritual They Seem To Be

I bet that lights a few fires.

First, let’s define “church”. We can’t define it the way Jesus would have defined it because Jesus never imagined “churches”. He was born, lived and died a Jew. He knew from temples. And — if you recall — Jesus preached AGAINST the temple and the temple authorities. They were corrupt. And anyway — after “Do Unto Others”, Jesus’s core message was “You don’t need the Priests, don’t need a Temple; speak directly to the Father — talk directly to God”.

Why, Jesus would ask, would anyone need a church to follow him when part of his core message was “Ditch the church”?

I know — logic, right? It has no place in religion. That’s the point. That’s why religion and spirituality are two separate things. Everyone — atheists included — experiences “spirituality”. Look it up. You can bring any god you want to the Spirituality Table. You can bring no god at all. Spirituality is just you and the fact that there’s something bigger than you — how’re you gonna deal with it?

“Religion” happens when people try to quantify spirituality. They try to define it specifically. But whose spirituality are they talking about? Fact: being sentient beings, all with our own particular way of seeing the world, experience existence differently. Ask ten theists what “god” is and you’ll get ten different answers. That’s not God’s fault. He is whatever we need him to be.

Jesus did not invent Christianity. If he were to actually return from the dead (something he never knew he could do) and see what’s been created in his name, his head might never stop exploding. How the hell did we get such a simple message — “Do Unto Others” — so completely and utterly wrong? The bulk of the NT is Paul’s work. It’s his noodling over this evolving concept in his head. The NT is Paul’s letters and epistles to all the far-flung gentile communities he was creating and building. It’s Paul inventing a mythology based on Jewish stories but adapted for a gentile audience who wouldn’t know how far Paul was departing from the source material.

This is in no way to diss the magnificent fiction Paul created. This is a testament to it. Paul turned Jesus into something he never was — a messiah. And he turned belief in that invented messiah into a literal “cure for death”. Believe in (Paul’s version of) Jesus and you, too can live forever!

Want to know why Christianity spread? It was selling a genius product.

There’s always been a huge dichotomy to Christianity. On the one hand you have Jesus — and his simple philosophy (“Do Unto Others”) that even an atheist can agree with and follow. On the other hand you have these massive church organizations. You have the monolithic Catholic church. You have politically active Protestant denominations here in America. You have televangelism and evangelicals who adore Trump — and NONE OF IT — not one bit — has the least relationship whatsoever with Jesus.

From the Church’s point of view, Jesus is the “Guy-On-A-Cross” mascot. He’s Ronald McDiedForOurSins.

Died for our SINS? As in Eve? As in The Garden Of Eden? That is integral to the Jesus story as the Church preaches it, right? If you want to buy in to what pretty much every Church wants to sell you, you have to buy that the Jesus THEY’RE selling you is the cure for what Eve did to Mankind by biting into the apple. What purpose in the Grand Story does Jesus serve if not to die for humanity’s (Eve’s original) sin? That, understand, is the Jesus that Paul (and, over time, the early Church fathers) invented. It’s the “Concocted Jesus” they concocted a church around.

But, again — Eve’s just the underpinning for the “beat death” sales pitch. Believe in Jesus and you can both overcome what that horrible bitch Eve did to us all AND get to live forever as the most idealized version of yourself that you can think of. Want to do all that? Then follow these rules “religiously”.

Or else.

People who love their churches — over their spirituality — they need their churches (with their rules & regs) because they don’t HAVE any spirituality. It must be so — because a person filled with actual spiritual feelings (which are expansive by their nature) would look at an institution built on reining in those feelings (do it OUR way) like they had ten heads.

The one thing of real value a Church could offer — and they do — is community. Ah, but there’s the rub. What is a community built on? A church built on common spiritual goals would be one thing.

Pretty much every Church though is built on self preservation — of the Church and the church. I’ve a dear, dear friend who’s a Presbyterian pastor. At present he doesn’t have a church; his mission — he works for the Southern California Presbytery — is to travel around to all the failing Presbyterian churches all across Southern California and help them as best he can into non-existence.

Every one of those church communities are dying (or have died) because the cost of the church building itself was impossible to bear. Buildings take money to construct and then maintain. The bigger they are, the more they cost. Who’s going to pay for it? God? Good luck with that.

To maintain a church building requires dues-paying members. Lots of them. And they have to be regular dues-payers. Got priests? They need salaries. God won’t pay their bills.

The reason more and more young people are abandoning organized religion is because organized religion does not satisfy their spiritual ache. The community is nice and all but they still walk out the door with their Big Questions unanswered. The reason is their church isn’t in the “Answer Big Questions” biz. It’s in the “Keep Being A Going Concern As A Church” biz. That’s not the same thing.

Churches are where spirituality goes to die — so its body can be sold off as relics.