Michael Flynn Is The Poster Boy For Why Monotheism Is Dangerous

Michael Flynn speaks during a protest of the outcome of the 2020 presidential election outside the Supreme Court on December 12, 2020 in Washington, D.C.

Ever notice how it’s never Jews or Muslims or Buddhists or Native Americans or anyone other than Christians who think their religion should be the only religion practiced in America? What is it exactly about Christianity — okay, American Christianity — that makes it so easily taken in by megalomaniacs like Jim Jones and David Koresh and a thousand other mostly men who insist they are “God’s messenger” (and you better effiin’ listen to what they say!)? What makes a guy like Michael Flynn say out loud that America should have only one religion: his? What in his religious instruction when he was growing up made him equate “Do unto others” with “Do what I say or else?” How does a loving god become an authoritarian monster? Spoiler alert: it’s how monotheism works. Loving people having loving “God’s” inside their heads. Racist authoritarians have racist, authoritarian gods inside theirs.

Guess who’s better at imposing their god on other people — because that’s what their version of God is telling them too do? Hint — loving Gods don’t ever have to “impose” anything on anyone; they wait for people to come to them. So, it will always be the monotheist with the darker version of God who does the better job of marketing and spreading his version because that’s what his version is telling him to do (while the loving God’s followers preach patience — admirable but time consuming). The whole idea of forced conversion is ludicrous of course. If you have to force belief on someone? That’s probably because what YOU believe isn’t all that believable.

Polytheism itself didn’t produce empires the way monotheism produced the Holy Roman Empire. That’s not a coincidence. Polytheism by its nature diffuses divine power. There may be a “head deity” like a Zeus or Odin but they control the other gods mostly. Humans are incidental to their existence, not its focus. Monotheism flipped that on its head. Now, for reference sake, we should note that the Romans regarded Christians — who didn’t believe in the Roman gods — as atheists. For real! “Atheism”, ya see, is kinda relative. Judaism may have put monotheism on the map, but it was Christianity that took monotheism wide. Following Gods laws was the point of the exercise, not spreading them to people who didn’t believe already. That’s one of the reasons Jews don’t proselytize. In our heads, you have to come to God (or be born into the tribe); there’s no “good news” to spread.

And that “good news” — that’s the whole thrust of Christianity. It’s Paul’s true genius (and Paul invented Christianity, “Jesus” did not). Paul wove a thousand years of conflicting Jewish messiah mythology into a brand new religion that took monotheism itself to a brand new place. While polytheistic gods offered individual humans nothing in return for believing in them, the Hebrews’ Yahweh (itself a distillation of the Canaanite god El) took a personal interest in humans because, for starters, he created them and they epitomized him. Humans were a not-quite-exact-but-close-enough image of God himself. Somehow though, this perfect God creates a creature that can’t even remember who created it. Next thing ya know, these stupid creatures think there are thousands of gods!

In Genesis, Yahweh tells Abraham “Believe in me and me alone and I will make of you a great nation!” Think about that. A deity capable of creating literally everything has to negotiate with something he’s created just to get them to believe in him! But that’s part of what made monotheism so attractive — there’s only one deity and he’s emotionally fragile. And fluid. You can make of this deity what you like. The Apostle Paul clearly understood that. Remember: Paul traveled outside the teeny-tiny world of Judea and Samaria. Jesus (Joshua ben Joseph is how he thought of himself) — a guy Paul never met in the flesh — did not. Jesus was born, lived his entire life and died a Jew. He thought Jewish thoughts and taught Jewish lessons to other Jews who understood all his Jewish references and concepts.

When Saul of Tarsus becomes Paul, it’s because of a vision he has — INSIDE HIS OWN HEAD. He goes to Jerusalem and tries to sell that vision but gets rejected: by the people who knew Joshua ben Joseph personally and who had actually heard him. They reject Paul out of hand because, well, he wasn’t describing the real Joshua ben Joseph, Paul was describing an imaginary character that he himself had created: Jesus, the Christ. And Paul’s version of Jesus did something the real Joshua ben Joseph most certainly did not: he defeated death.

That’s it. That’s Paul’s whole sales pitch in a nutshell — and it’s genius. In a world where gods did nothing for human beings, Paul offered a deity who cared so much about individual humans that he 1) had a son who 2) died for their “sins” and 3) if they believed in him exactly the way they were told to, then 4) just like Jesus, they, too, could live forever! in a magical after life called “heaven”. Of course, if they didn’t accept “the good news”, they would absolutely go to another place Paul and the early church fathers invented: “hell”.

Jesus preached that one didn’t need the corrupt temple or its corrupt priests in order to have a relationship with God. Paul couldn’t preach that because it would cut him out of the relationship. So Paul inserted the very same corrupt temple and priests that Jesus had railed against. In place of a simple one-on-one relationship, Paul inserted complexity over-brimming with dogma. He also created a hierarchy where a direct relationship between human and God was impossible! It required training — or maybe just being “special” — to understand God.

Even the Catholic Church couldn’t always agree with itself what God wanted. During the 14th century, there were two Popes for a while (actually, for a short while there were actually three Popes!) Martin Luther didn’t agree with anything about the Catholic church. I wonder — has anyone ever tried to figure out exactly how many humans died because they disagreed about whether God was a Protestant or a Catholic? Or a Muslim?

Quick reminder: Jews don’t kill other people because they don’t believe in the exact same version of God. Israel’s Palestinian problems are all entirely political, not religious. Their solutions will be entirely political — not religious.

Guys like Michael Flynn are nothing new to non-Christians. Every evangelical is just as threatening because of utter nonsense they accept as “gospel truth”. Remember — in an evangelical’s head, all the Jews have to die in order for the evangelicals to get their final reward. Thanks anyway, fellahs! But, here’s the thing — if we were to sit down with Mike Flynn and go deep into his religious beliefs, we’d get to that place where Flynn has fused his ideas of God with the fact that he “hears God’s voice in his head”, telling him “do this” or “do that”.

When Flynn then “does this” or “does that”? Who does Flynn think he’s doing it for? Himself? He may insist that, no, he’s doing it for God but unless we can see or hear the other side of that conversation for ourselves? Sorry, Mike — that’s just you talking to yourself, telling yourself what you think “God” says. Take this to the bank and anticipate getting richer than rich: people like Michael Flynn have completely swapped their own sense of self for whatever they think “God” is. When they speak for God, they speak AS God.

And that’s because, really, they ARE God.

To be fair, this doesn’t happen inside every monotheist’s head. It doesn’t have to for it to be dangerous. But a monotheist who insists he speaks for God will always be able to sway plenty of other monotheists to go along because that dynamic version of God sounds more appealing than they’re undynamic version. And, so, off they go — a mutually agreed upon version of God in their heads — to attack people whose version of God isn’t the mutually agreed upon version.

Michael Flynn believes that his version of God (and that God’s “religion”) should be the only version of God and religion here in America. Hey, so does Steve Bannon. So does every single Republican member of Congress who calls him or herself “Christian”. They must feel that way about God because that’s how they act. To reiterate: a loving god doesn’t need to be shoved down peoples’ throats.

An angry god, on the other hand, relishes that form of delivery. Take Michael Flynn’s word for it.

Personally, I Blame Monotheism For This Freakin’ Mess We’re In

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A monotheist is someone who thinks his imaginary friend can beat the crap out of your imaginary friend. The problem is, the monotheist’s friend isn’t all that “imaginary”. This atheist absolutely accepts the sincerity of all his monotheistic friends (and he has many!) that they believe a creature far larger than themselves created everything. And I know that many of my monotheist friends imagine a God that really does represent love (or, at least, the possibility of love in a universal sense). Alas, as I look around at the world, I don’t see much evidence of theists following the teachings of a loving deity. Instead, I see and hear people who insist that they understand God and what he wants better than you — so you better get out of their way. I see people determined that they’re acting on God’s behalf. Are they? I have doubts…

It starts innocently enough on the believer’s part. They walk into a religious institution’s door filled with questions. It ain’t even remotely innocent on the religious institution’s part. Judaism doesn’t imagine the activist God that Christianity morphed Yahweh into. But, the Apostle Paul’s genius (and this atheist thinks he was a genius precisely because we’re still talking about his work product) was in refashioning Jewish mythology (going back a thousand years by the time Paul started refashioning it) into a whole different thing wherein God offered eternal life in exchange for devout belief. The institutional church also put it into everyone’s head (as part of its teaching) that every non-believer (everyone who doubted the absolute veracity of this mythology) threatened the entire belief structure — and therefore must be eliminated because they’re “heretics”.

Wait, what? How the hell did we get THERE from a loving “God”?

It takes zero dogma to “Do unto others”. To be a good, practicing Catholic? It’s nothing but dogma. That’s because the institutional church — regardless of denominational branding — has turned “Do unto others” into “Do what we say or else”.

This atheist — grateful to Hebrew School for making him the atheist he is today (well, it iced the cake on the atheism with which I dropped from the womb) — considers himself a “Fan O’ Jesus”. Jesus was born lived his whole life and died a Jew who preached only ever to other Jews about Jewish things and in a way that only other Jews understood. Paul (also a Jew) took his version of Jesus (and Paul never met Jesus or heard him teach) to the Gentiles where no one was going to check his work or point out how he was getting either the Jewish mythology or the Jesus mythology all wrong. Because the Gentiles knew nothing about Jewish mythology or Jesus that Paul didn’t tell them.

Thus Paul and the early church fathers began to construct a brand-spanking-new Christian mythology.

When Jews took to monotheism, they were relatively unique. Yahweh (which is really the Canaanite god “El” repurposed and still represented in place names like “Beth-EL” and “IsraEL”) represented a radical shift in how people thought about the divine. Polytheistic gods didn’t really bother themselves with humans or human concerns. Few polytheistic gods had any sort of “personal relationship” with humans in general. Why would they? What could humans do for them? What could they do for humans? Almost nothing.

Monotheism changes that dynamic. Right off the bat, Yahweh tells Abraham to move from Ur (modern day Southern Iraq, where he was from) to modern day Israel (Canaan then) with the promise that the Canaanite’s land was going to be theirs. Because Yahweh said so. Yahweh, unlike any god before, takes a very personal interest in Abraham but only so long as Abraham agrees to believe ONLY in Yahweh.

Think about it… When the Pentateuch’s authors finally wrote down the stories they’d been passing along orally for a thousand years, their monotheistic god didn’t say “Well, you can believe in other gods if you like but that’d be silly since they don’t exist!” Instead, Yahweh is petulant: “You better not believe in any other god!” That’s being competitive where, if Yahweh is the real deal, no competition ever existed; if no other gods made the world then they can’t exist (other than as characters in a story)! That makes Yahweh’s petulance even harder to comprehend. This mighty creature was powerful enough to create literally everything in existence — and out of nothing no less. He should be the epitome of confidence! Instead, like a whiney little bitch, he can’t bear it if his creations don’t toady to him! What kind of bullshit deity is this?

If Yahweh creating everything in existence is a fact of life from the outset, then where would any alternative way of thinking come from? It makes “free will” look like a design flaw since free will can invent bullshit out of nothing — just like Yahweh can. Or, it makes Yahweh look deranged, mercurial, bi-polar and off his meds. Only a human being could invent a deity as horribly neurotic as that.

Hey, this doesn’t mean “God” or god-like being doesn’t exist. Show me proof, I’m there! But, Yahweh (“god” is Yahweh’s job description, not his name) is a piss poor creation. Valdemort makes more sense FFS!

And while we’re on the subject, God — as imagined by way too many monotheists — and Valdemort — have way, way too much in common.

Put aside whether or not a “creator of everything” exists. What monotheism does is put “God” (a character it says is God and describes as God and quotes as God) inside its believers’ heads. “When you ‘pray to God’,” the institutional religion tells its followers, “Or talk to God or think about him and “another voice” answers you, trust that that voice IS “God”.

This is exactly the moment when trouble begins.

The believer now believes that this voice inside his head — the one speaking AS God — IS God. Except, it’s not God. It’s just a voice inside their head — it’s them talking to themselves. And if you can’t show the other side of the conversation in any way, shape or form? Then it’s a one-sided conversation. The other side is not going to reply because it can’t. So any “reply” you attribute to it is you replying and not it. The True Believer swaps themselves with the God character. Therefore, whatever thoughts occur to them are also occurring to God (especially since God, being omnipotent, sees and hears literally everything).

Now the True Believer is thinking like God and for God. Oh, come on already! Whether they know it or not, whether they accept it or not, they’ve made the leap. They may put it “God speaks through me” or “I understand God and what he wants” but the divine entity in their minds is none other than themselves cos-playing as Yahweh.

Think I’m nuts? Watch televangelist Kenneth Copeland explain how life works and tell me Kenny-Boy doesn’t think God’s divine light doesn’t shine from his anointed ass. “Anointed!” That’s code for “I made me God”.

Part of the institutional church’s genius (an extension of Paul’s) is their insistence that believers need the church in order to have a relationship with God. Unfortunately that contradicts one of Jesus’s core teachings — that no one needs a corrupt temple or its corrupt priests (even if they’re priests working for a corrupt church) in order to speak to “the father”. But, hey — that’s just Jesus talking and what does that effin’ hippie know, right?

Monotheism concentrates the power of the universe in one place and in one “brain” — “God’s”. That would be okay if everyone had a truly uniform idea of what “God” is. That’s a literal impossibility. Every human experiences Life in their own personal way as Life filters through their brain. Ask ten theists what God is and you will get ten different answers. That’s not because God can be “anything” (isn’t that a neat trick!), it’s because the idea of God can be anything.

Put that kind of “power” inside a flawed human mind and it’s a stone cold guarantee that only bad shit will ever happen. The history of human beings and their religious beliefs says so.

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”.

Religion Has, At Best, A Dysfunctional Relationship With Reason

I’ll own the broad brush right up top. Not all religions struggle with reason. Some really do want to understand what makes us and the world tick (Buddhism focuses on human suffering and misery rather than getting its followers to behave themselves). How did the universe get here and what is the point of it all? That’s all we ask a religion to answer. Before we understood that science was a “thing” (more accurately, a way to think based on as much reality as we could discern), we thought religion was the only path to truth. Where did we come from? In 6th century BCE Persia, the Zoroastrian priest Zarathustra suggested it had something to do with the primeval clash between gods Ahura Mazdā and Angra Mainyu, the Destructive Spirit. Hinduism has multiple creation myths; in fact, it anticipates string theory — it believes our universe is one of many — except Hinduism theorizes that without math, a luxury string theory never gets. The Abrahamic faiths give all the credit to Yahweh, that angry Canaanite leftover (Yahweh’s origins as El are memorialized in Middle Eastern place names like Beth EL and IsraEL). Yahweh, for all his monotheistic confidence, still behaves like a bi-polar depressive who hasn’t the courage of his own convictions. The last word a reasonable person would use to describe the Yahweh character is “reasonable”.

In religion’s defense, it’s trying to answer those big questions armed only with the piss poor information on hand at the religion’s founding. I bet that if the men who wrote the Pentateuch had had access to microscopes and telescopes and the internet, they wouldn’t have written their origin stories the way they did. They would have known as they sat down to articulate the religious ideas in their head that whoever or whatever this Yahweh character was, he fit into a vast physical cosmos that adhered to reliably predictable physical properties. Their religious text would have reflected that real world knowledge — and, perhaps, their approach to spirituality would have been entirely different. Or, more likely, it would not ever have existed at all.

Religion and spirituality are not the same thing. Spirituality is the awe one feels while gazing up at the stars. It’s the awareness of existence itself and of the specific universe we live in. There are things far, far larger than us. They were here before we came, they’ll be here long after we’re gone. Spirituality is a nod to permanence by impermanent creatures. Religion, by contrast, is pure dogma. It’s an institutional attempt to codify spirituality. “To achieve this spiritual goal — beat death, for instance (Christianity’s sales pitch) — you have to follow these steps “religiously”. Fail to follow even one step — become a heretic — and the deal’s off.” That’s how Christianity got from “Do unto others” to “Do what we say or else”.

Of the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism is by far the least dogmatic. I’d even say that Judaism is relatively dogma free. That’s because Judaism is more a culture than a religion. That wasn’t by choice. For almost two thousand years, Jews were ostracized from white, Christian Europe. It wasn’t reason that motivated Jew hate, it was un-reason.

Jesus didn’t invent Christianity, Paul did. And, for that, Paul deserves our eternal respect. The majority of the NT is written by Paul or reflects the mythology Paul was creating out of whole cloth as he took HIS version of Jesus out to the Gentiles. Paul failed to sell his version of Jesus to people who actually knew Jesus (Jesus’ family, for example) or heard Jesus preach. So, Paul turned to the non-Jewish world. Aside from Jews and Zoroastrians, most of the world at that time was polytheistic. Polytheistic gods weren’t materially different from humans; we were all made of the same “stuff”. Polytheistic gods didn’t really care much about humans. Yahweh, on the other hand, cared deeply about humans. He even has a son whose purpose is to help cleanse humans of their most terrible sins (committed by Eve) that keep humans from happiness). Ah, but Yahweh promises even more than that!

If you believe in Jesus in the exact way the institution tell you to, the institution insists that, like Jesus did, you too will defeat death and get to live in a forever happy place with everyone you love.

Can I assure you of something? That’s not really going to happen. It’s never happened — ever. It’s a swell story — we can’t argue with its success, can we? But it’s a story, not reality. Wishful thinking instead of just “thinking”. It recognizes that reason tells a different story than it wants to tell. Good luck trying to apply reason (or basic story logic) to the Jesus-Judas-Crucifixion story. For starters — stone cold truth — whoever Jesus was, he was born, lived his entire life and died a Jew. He had only Jewish thoughts in his head which he preached and taught exclusively to Jews since only Jews would have gotten the context he was preaching — monotheism in a polytheistic world. Paul needed Jesus to BE an actual messiah, not just a maybe messiah.

Keep in mind: the “how to be a messiah” rules are a thousand years old before Jesus or Paul ever hear them. They’re part of a long oral tradition finally written down around the 6th century BCE. 600 years before Jesus shows up. The point: it’s not reality talking here, it’s mythology refracted through Paul’s imagination as he takes his version of Jesus — the son of God, defeater of death — to people with no knowledge or concern for Jewish mythology. Paul and the early church fathers invent censuses that did not happen in order to get Jesus born in Bethlehem — which has to happen if Jesus is to share a bloodline with King David (who’s dead a thousand years at least before Jesus). The whole point of Jesus being a messiah is that by following Jesus, his followers can overcome the weight of Eve’s original sin and live forever in the process. But, that means Jesus HAS TO DIE for the whole mythology machine to work correctly.

Thank about it: if Judas doesn’t betray Jesus (per the story) and Jesus never gets crucified — what does that do to the whole construct? Does it all still work the same if Jesus lives a long, happy life and dies an old man — surrounded by loved ones — in his bed? Doubt it. The Christian mythology Paul invented relied on Jesus dying — and dying by crucifixion was paramount! How else do we get a cross to symbolize the entire faith? Just wondering — if the Romans had imagined the guillotine before the French and used it instead of crucifixion to dispatch people they didn’t like, would Christians now walk around with little guillotines around their necks?

The world’s religions would all tell you that by following them, you’ll find peace. Maybe. The history of religion says not. The history of religion is not a history of peace. It’s not a history of “reason” either.

It’s not a coincidence.

Why Being An Atheist And A Jew At The Same Time Isn’t A Contradiction

It took me a while to figure out why I’ve gotten strange looks most of my life when I claim to be both an atheist and a Jew.

Every one of those strange looks comes from non-Jews who have it in their heads that Judaism is equal to Christianity is equal to Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism or any other world faith. And, indeed, one can convert from whatever faith one practices to any of those other faiths — Judaism included. But the only thing one can convert into — where Judaism is concerned — is the religion. One can change one’s way of thinking to to see the world from a Jewish perspective. That doesn’t make one Jewish though in the cultural sense. And that’s what separates Jews from nearly every other ethnic group. We’re not just a religious affiliation, we’re a distinct cultural group whose religion is part of the group’s culture but far from its entirety.

A Baptist may have Baptist roots and the culture they live in can be Baptist out the wazoo. But those Baptists could convert to Methodism or Calvinism tomorrow and that’d be the end of them being Baptists. A Jew can quit Judaism and never walk into a synagogue again for the rest of her life. In the world’s eyes, she’ll never stop being a Jew however. Because what makes her a Jew — what makes any Jew a “Jew” — isn’t their version of God, it’s something deeper than that. God, after all, is just an idea of how we all got here.

In addition to this blog, I have a few others. There’s Mulligan Jesus (which I neglect and shouldn’t) and there’s The Faithesism Project Podcast which I do with my good friend Randy Lovejoy who’s also a Presbyterian Pastor. A few podcasts back, Randy and I had a guest named Dave Wertlieb. Randy and Dave are related by marriage which is how they know each other. Randy wanted Dave to be a guest because (in addition to being Jewish), Dave is an avowed agnostic. Whereas theists insists that “absolutely, there is a God!” and atheists insist “absolutely there is not!” agnostics insist that neither theists nor atheists know what they’re talking about. That is, they cannot literally “know” anything here and both the theist’s faith and the atheist’s un-faith are based on incomplete information. Randy and I both expected the podcast to focus on a discussion of agnosticism (their point of view really is the most honest), it ended up more a discussion between Dave and I about what it is to be “Jewish”. More specifically, about how Dave and I could both insist we’re Jewish while neither of us practices the Jewish religion.

Randy grew up in Texas but then traveled the world as a religious missionary. His attachment to Christianity — though it’s the faith he grew up in — isn’t cultural at all. Christianity is an ideal that appeals to Randy, a vision of the world he agrees with. Of all the Christians I know, Randy has more Jesus in him than most. But, Randy found himself befuddled by both Dave and myself. For starters, though I had never met Dave before the podcast, Dave and I hit it off instantly. That is, we had plenty to talk about including a huge pool of common experience: we’re both Jewish. Randy, at the conversation’s start, couldn’t understand how I could claim to be an atheist — and yet Jewish — while Dave could claim to be agnostic and yet Jewish. Randy was assuming that the bottom line for “being Jewish” was following the Jewish faith.

The reasons WHY Jews were treated as pariahs across two thousand years of European history is a whole set of blog posts unto themselves. Christianity grew on the back of multiple untruths — all of them Paul’s creation. Paul took various Jewish ideas and mythologies and repurposed them for the gentile communities he was grooming across Asia Minor. These communities had no knowledge of Jewish mythologies or prophesies. Whatever Paul created went unchallenged. After Justinian made Christianity the state religion and, as the Catholic Church began to assert its primacy, Jew hatred became a focus because “feelings over facts”.

For fifteen hundred years, Jews were excluded from European society, forced to live separate lives in separate communities. The word “ghetto” is Italian. The first place it ever referred to was the Jewish Ghetto in Venice — that fenced off part of town where the Jews were forced to live. Living apart from Christian Europe for fifteen hundred years, marrying and having babies only with other Jews — not a huge community begin with — caused a Jewish genetic disorder: Tay Sachs disease. Tay Sachs was born in the shtetls of Europe. And Tay Sachs can live inside a Jewish person regardless of how dedicated they are to the Torah.

I recommend the podcast Randy and I did with Dave. Okay — I’m biased. But it really is a worthwhile conversation both because of what was said about being a Jew and about being a person of “un-faith”.

When I say (and I say it at the start of each podcast) that I’m “grateful to Hebrew School for making me the atheist I am today”, I am absolutely not being sarcastic or even mean. I am genuinely grateful because Hebrew school taught me to question even fundamental ideas like where we all came from. To be honest, I’m pretty convinced I dropped from the womb an atheist. Except for a twenty-four period when I was eight and thought I was in big trouble for taking a Playboy magazine to school one day? I have never looked skyward expecting a shoulder to cry on.

History says any shoulder up there is too cold to cry on anyway.

What Does It Say About You When You Suck At Being A Christian?

In theory, following Jesus is remarkably easy. So easy, in fact, that even an atheist can do it just by “Doing it unto others”. And yet, looking around at the most “Christian-y” among us, people “doing unto others” is the last thing you’ll see — unless they’re doing it unto others before those others can do it unto them. But, in theory anyway, the most Christian people should be the people who most want to model their lives on Jesus’s. Hmmmmmm… the most visibly Christian people visible to us are televangelists like Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker and Kenneth Copland and Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Joel Osteen Copland famously explained why it’s just not possible for a “man of Jesus” to fly commercial. Each of these characters is a study in performance art, not spirituality. Kenny Copland and Joel Osteen couldn’t care less about your problems unless you start making monthly donations via your credit card. The only thing these scumbags have faith in is their bank account.

Jerry Falwell, Jr wants you to know it wasn’t Jesus who put THAT smile on THAT young woman’s face. No sirree. Jesus couldn’t do that on his best day. But Jerry just did (he wants us all to know).

The fact that it’s sooooooooo easy to pick on televangelists should tell us something. The fact that religious figures have been figures of satiric fun going back to Moliere’s Tartuffe (1664) should tell us something. In Tartuffe, a rich guy takes a religious fraud into his house believing it will raise his standing. Of course, the rich guy doesn’t realize Tartuffe is a fraud (though everyone else in his house does). Even when Tartuffe seduces his wife atop the very table he’s hiding under doesn’t convince him. That’s some serious bamboozlement — but that’s the whole point of televangelism. It’s theater. God Kabuki geared not toward anyone’s spiritual enlightenment but toward enriching the preacher as quickly as possible. As Kenny Copeland will happily tell you — it costs Jesus a bomb to fly private, but a messiah’s gotta fly how he’s gotta fly — and, hell — where’s my damned drink?

Why is it the most ardent Christians seem the least good at it — like they need to keep talking about Christianity or, they know, they’ll stop believing in it. Like they’ve “heard” the good news they’re selling except they can’t quite make themselves buy it.

To be fair, being a Christian is indeed hard: you have to swallow a lot of things no one should have to swallow. But, that’s only if you insist on practicing Christian dogma rather than Jesus’s simple life philosophy.

Fact: just as he did not invent Christianity (Paul did), neither did Jesus invent a single bit of the mythology that says 1) he rose from the dead or 2) is coming back any time soon. Again, Paul the Apostle did all that. Paul never met Jesus (like has family had). He never heard Jesus teach. So, when Paul tried to hijack Jesus, Jesus’s family and followers objected. That’s why Paul took HIS version of Jesus — and the Jewish mythology that suggested Jesus was any sort of “messiah” — out to the Gentiles. They didn’t know Jesus either. And they had even less background in the Jewish mythology than former Jew Paul did. So, when Paul twisted the Jewish mythology around to meet his needs, no one objected because no one knew any better.

Judaism, by its nature, is relatively dogma-free. One can toss the whole religion and still be welcome as a Jew (that’s because Judaism is more than just a religion; fifteen years of isolation in Europe did turn Jews into a unique tribe with its own genetic disorder caused by in-breeding). The most dogmatic part of Judaism is its dietary laws and no one is obligated to follow them. It’s a choice. Christianity, on the other hand, is steeped in dogma — and you absolutely must buy the dogma if you want the Christian bone. And not a whit of Christian dogma has the least bit to do with anything Jesus said, thought or taught.

But then, Jesus was born, lived his entire life and died a Jew. He preached only to Jews about topics only Jews understood in a language that was uniquely theirs. IF Jesus were to miraculously rise from the dead and walk the earth again, the first thing he’d bump on is the staggering amount of hatred his followers feel toward his tribe. He’d be blown away by the number of Jews MURDERED by Christians for a reason that Jesus himself would insist was bullshit: that any Jew “killed him”.

On pure story logic, it makes zero sense. If the whole point of Jesus’s existence is to die for the sins of humanity so as to right the wrong Eve committed in the Garden of Eden, then it would not serve humanity if Jesus doesn’t get crucified and, say, lives to be a very old man who dies happy. For the mythology to work, Jesus must die at the hands of the Romans. If you look at the bigger picture — the one God’s working — Jesus MUST die. To Paul’s credit, his invention endures like few things have ever endured.

I don’t think that’s because the Christian message resonates with so many people, I think it’s because Paul cleverly added a new dimension to Yahweh — and having a deity that cared about humans because he created them was a game changer. Whereas polytheistic gods did very little for individual humans, Yahweh the monotheist deity supposedly cared about each and every human. But Paul improved on that idea of a personable god by having Yahweh offer up something every human wanted more than life itself: a way to defeat death.

That, really, is Paul’s sales pitch to Christians: “Believe in this version of Jesus I’m pitching to ya and, just like Jesus did, you, too, can defeat death!” Who wouldn’t want to live forever and be surrounded by the people and things you love?

The problem for Christianity is, most people have figured out that Christianity cannot possibly deliver on its promise of defeating death. Without that benefit, what’s the point? I mean, Jesus is a perfectly nice guy but so’s my nephew. Can Jesus cut video like my nephew can because otherwise he’s useless to me and probably everyone else. If it isn’t about following Jesus (or beating death) then what’s the point of Christianity for most Christians? This, I suspect, lies at the heart of the problem. The object of being a Christian is to keep Christian dogma in your prayers. You damn well better adhere to it — or stop calling yourself a “Christian”.

For the record? Followers of Jesus do not have the same issues.

Maybe the real problem is that it’s so easy to be (or at least call yourself) “a Christian” that any angry, racist jerk can join the club. When Christians proselytize, they honestly don’t care what you’re guilty of. As far as they’re concerned, once you’ve “bathed in the blood of Christ”, all your sins are forgiven — including the really ugly, violent ones you’re going to do at your church’s behest.

I take back what I said up top. Guys like Jerry Falwell, Jr and Kenneth Copeland don’t suck at being Christians. In fact, they’re great at it. It’s following Jesus where they completely fall down.

As if following Jesus mattered to them.

The Dangerous Arrogance Of Monotheism

Had God really created humans – and not the other way around – he surely would have done a better job.  It takes a human being to invent a creator so neurotic he can’t content himself with HAVING created everything, he needs one of his creations – us – to praise him relentlessly for having done it – and then for  every other little thing he does – like a three year old who needs the endless stroking just to master toilet training.  To be fair then, it’s not God’s fault he is the way he is – petulant, jealous, irrational, inconsistent and homicidal.   It’s ours since we’re the ones who invented Yahweh.

That’s the Biblical “God’s” name: “Yahweh.  It’s not “God” – god is Yahweh’s job description as in, “Say, what does that Yahweh guy do for a living anyway?  Surely he doesn’t really think he’s a god!”   Ah, but Yahweh does think he’s a god – and we’re the ones who put that notion into his head. 

The writer Karen Armstrong spent seven years as a Roman Catholic nun before leaving her order and becoming one of the foremost writers on religion in the world.  She now teaches at the Leo Baeck College For The Study of Judaism and The Training Of Rabbis and is an honorary member of the Association of Muslim Social Sciences.  Her religion bona fides are rock solid.  In A History Of God, Armstrong writes about her experience as an eight year old trying to wrap her mind around the whole idea of “God”. 

“Hell,” she writes, was something she “could grasp imaginatively.”  God, on the other hand, was “a somewhat shadowy figure, defined in intellectual abstractions.”  At eight, she had to memorize the catechism question “What is God?” with the answer first drawn up in the Nicene Creed in 345 AD: “God is the Supreme Spirit, who alone exists of Himself and is infinite in all perfections.”  As the adult Armstrong puts it, that definition left her cold then and leaves her even colder now: “It has always seemed a singularly arid, pompous and arrogant definition.”

Arrogance and monotheism.  They go hand in hand like Adam and Eve. 

Human beings have probably been creating gods as long as they’ve been aware enough to think; the gods filled in the gaps in their limited knowledge base.  The gods’ existence explained why the world “was” to begin with and why it worked the way it did.  Armstrong points out that when “people began to devise their myths and worship their gods, they were not seeking a literal explanation for natural phenomena.  The symbolic stories, cave paintings and carvings were an attempt to express their wonder and to link this pervasive mystery with their own lives…”.

The polytheistic pantheon didn’t present a gulf between human beings and the gods.  In fact, in most polytheistic visions of the world, “…men, women and the gods themselves all shared the same nature and derived from the same divine substance.  The pagan vision was holistic. The gods were not shut off from the human race… divinity was not essentially different from humanity.  There was thus no need for a special revelation of the gods or for a divine law to descend to earth from on high.”

We like to think of monotheism as an evolutionary improvement upon polytheism – as if, by finally boiling the divine pantheon down to just one god, humans made some great intellectual leap forward.  That’s such a monotheistic way to think.

My Hebrew School teacher Henry Hyman taught me that the Biblical texts are works of culture and religion; they are in no way historical texts though they do reflect history.  A lot of Jews – if you ask them “who wrote the Pentateuch?” will answer “Why, Moses did!”  No, Moses did not write the Old Testament.  He didn’t write anything as far as we know because, as far as we know, he never wrote anything down.  There is nothing whatsoever in the archaeological record that even hints an actual “Moses” existed. There’s nothing whatsoever in Egyptian records (and, in the ancient world, they were among the best) that aligns with the Exodus story. You’d think losing a Pharaoh and his army to such amazing supernatural means would appear somewhere. It doesn’t. That’s the problem when you don’t write things down. It’s hard to believe you actually had the experience. Also, if you don’t write things down, it’s hard to make a case for you being a writer of anything — like the Torah.

Here’s a rough timeline for how we got from polytheism to monotheism and then formal, written-down monotheism:

1850 BCE: a person we now refer to as “Abraham” leaves Ur (in what is now Iraq) and settles to the west in Canaan.  The story passed down that he did it because Yahweh told him to. Per Armstrong: “We have no contemporary record of Abraham, but scholars think that he may have been one of the wandering chieftains who had led their people from Mesopotamia toward the Mediterranean.” 

1200 BCE: the wave of Hebrews who’d emigrated to Egypt during a severe famine in Canaan return from Egypt contending they’d been enslaved while there.  They claim to have been liberated by a deity called Yahweh, the god of their leader Moses. Note: By now, these stories have existed in oral form only (as far as we know) for hundreds of years with zero reliable continuity from teller to teller (never mind generation to generation, decade to decade or century to century).

700 BCE: Over a thousand years of history FINALLY gets written down.  Contemporary thinking remains in general agreement about WHO finally committed a millennium of folk traditions to scroll and ink: Biblical author “J” gets down to work in the southern Kingdom of Judah) while “E” starts writing in the northern Kingdom of Israel.  Right off the bat, there are significant differences in how each writer conceived of and wrote about Yahweh. “J” referred to the character as “Yahweh” while “E” used the title ‘Elohim’ as the deity’s name.  One stays “familiar”, polytheist style, while the other uses not Yahweh’s name but a high honorific. Two different people give us two different Yahwehs — right in the cult of Yahweh’s founding documents. Oy.

400 BCE: The accumulated religious texts, collected over the course of three hundred years, are collated into the final text of what we now call “The Pentateuch” — The Five Books Of Moses. The Old Testament.

When “P”, the next recognized authorial voice arrives at about this time, he makes some important distinctions and “clarifications”.  P is likely responsible for “In the beginning” as we now know it.  This version of Yahweh has big plans for human beings – and for Abraham in particular.  P is busily shaping the narrative to suit an evolving concept.

Armstrong asks: “Did Abraham worship the same God as Moses or did he know him by a different name?”  Hell – was Abraham even really a monotheist never mind the first monotheist? “Israelite religion was pragmatic and les concerned with the kind of speculative detail that would worry us” says Armstrong, “Yet we should not assume that either Abraham or Moses believed in their God as we do today.”  It’s probably more likely that the early Jewish patriarchs were pagans who shared many of the religious beliefs of their neighbors in Canaan.  Armstrong points to the strong likelihood that Abraham’s Yahweh was El, the High God of Canaan, dressed up a little and repurposed.  Among the clues: Yahweh introduces himself to Abraham as “El Shaddai” – El of the Mountain – and his name is preserved in such Hebrew names as “Isra-EL” and “Ishma-EL”. 

But, even the way the characters relate to Yahweh is telling.  “Abraham and Jacob both put their faith in El because he worked for them: they did not sit down and prove that he existed; El was not a philosophical abstraction… pragmatism would always be a factor in the history of God.  People would continue to adopt a particular conception of the divine because it worked for them, not because it was scientifically or philosophically sound.”

Armstrong nails it right there – people accept the divine because “it works for them” and not because it actually “works” as an explanation.

Ask any two theists (for example, Biblical authors “J” and “E”) to describe their vision of Yahweh and the odds are pretty much certain you’ll get two different visions.  Theists will quickly point out either that no one can really “know” God or that God appears in very individual ways to individual people.  It must be good to have one’s cake and get to eat it too.  That “having it both ways” is easy when you never have to show your work. Or actually pin down your “God” character to consistent specifics. 

But, having it both ways is how theists roll.  They can and do revise Yahweh on the fly.  They can hang any attribute they want on Yahweh without fear of contradiction.  Yahweh is whatever his individual believers believe he is. Who are we to contradict them?

And, if Yahweh chooses to speak through them (and not, say, YOU), that’s simply because Yahweh works in mysterious ways. 

Ironically, the first Christians were thought of as atheists by the Romans because they were so vocal in their rejection of the Romans’ pantheon of gods in favor of Yahweh, a god the Romans didn’t believe in.  The Romans put up with the Jews – who more passively believed in their monotheistic deity.  Paul’s mission to spread the religion he was inventing with each Epistle – sharing the good news that Jesus rose from the dead – was harder for the Romans to ignore. 

Paul’s genius was to supercharge Jewish monotheism.  Not only did this deity personally make human beings from a mix of the divine & actual dirt – using himself as the design prototype – this deity was involved in his human creations on a quotidian basis.  In fact, Paul’s version of Yahweh was so involved, he was offering up a way for every human being to beat the thing that scared them most of all: dying.  How’s that for a deity!  And all anyone had to do was believe in the version of Jesus that he, Paul, was creating for the Gentiles (the Jews in Palestine, including Jesus’ family, having rejected it as nonsense). 

That is why Paul went to the Gentiles to invent Christianity – his tweaked version of Jewish mythology (tweaked so that Jesus would fit right into the mythology) didn’t conform to the Jews’ version — which they told him, pointedly.  So, off Paul went to make up his own. Out in the Gentile world, Paul’s inventions played far, far better. There was no one to say “Hey, wait a minute! Jesus never said that!

Now, let’s track monotheism’s progress from this point forward.  The Jews – their temple now destroyed for good – pretty much do nothing with Yahweh other than pray to him as his official “chosen people”.  A lot of good that does the Jews.  Mighty as Yahweh is — parting oceans is no small feat — he can’t seem to get a simple temple to himself rebuilt. And being Yahweh’s “Chosen People” turns out to be not just a headache but a full bore migraine. Though they “invented” the idea of monotheism, all the other monotheists declare open war on the Jews.  Go figure.

By the time Paul and the early church fathers get done with Yahweh, he’s a different deity altogether.  He’s become completely bi-polar.  One moment, he’s the angry, Canaanite El of old, the next he’s knocking up a virgin (like a horny Greek Satyr) so that his sprog can die for humanity’s sins.  Jesus – the guy preaching “Do unto others” and “Suffer the little children” and “The meek shall inherit the earth” – has zero place in Paul’s creation aside from being a kind of Jesus McChristian mascot.  Come for the “Do Unto Others” but stay for the “Beat Death”.   

The Lord Our God, father of Jesus has plans but people will have to believe if those plans are ever going to get realized.  Though Jesus specifically advocated against his followers joining a religious institution (he taught “speak directly to God”), Paul had no such compunction about churches because his success depended on having them, Jesus be damned! 

There’s that monotheistic arrogance for you! 

Already, “Do unto others” has become “Do what Paul says” and once Paul’s ideas become the church’s, it’s full on “Do what we say”.   Paul never, EVER speaks for Jesus.  The Yahweh he’s speaking for is entirely of his own making, too.  That — Paul’s vision — is the church that arises from this construction. Soon enough, a formalized, “catholic” church emerges. The Catholic Church early on put its stamp on “what God is” when they collectively created The Mycene Creed in 325. When Catholics recite their catechism, they’re uttering some version of this creed.  The church is telling each and every believer what ITS version of God is, never mind their “personal perceptions”.

Though Jesus would have you speak to God directly, “his church” says, “no, ask us first”.  But then, Jesus didn’t seem to suffer from the arrogance of monotheism.  He may be the one “Christian” ever who didn’t.

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.

American Christianity Has Turned Itself Into A Death Cult That Would Have Horrified Jesus

Though I am a hard core (I’d even say devout) atheist, I consider myself a “fan of Jesus”. I don’t know for certain if Jesus actually existed (at present, no one can prove that he did, but, I suspect someone vaguely like him did exist — heavy emphasis on the word “vaguely”) but even a humble atheist like me can appreciate and take to heart the simple teaching “Do Unto Others”. It makes so much sense. Want to be treated with respect by others? Do unto them as you would have them do unto you.

Respect them.

The problem with sacred texts in a modern setting is that the modern setting knows way more than the sacred texts do. Lots of “new information” was available to the modern setting that the writers of the sacred texts had no way to access. If the men who wrote what was assembled into the Old Testament had had access to microscopes and telescopes and the internet, would they have written what they wrote the same way? Of course not. They didn’t KNOW that pathogens cause human disease, not magic or Yahweh (the god character’s actual name — “god” is his job description as in “That Yahweh’s a pretty thin-skinned god, don’tcha think?”). Had they seen photos of distant galaxies taken from the Hubble Telescope, do ya think they’d have invented a mythology to explain everything that still put Earth at the center of all creation when all evidence says the opposite?

Jesus did not invent Christianity. He lived his whole life — and died — a Jew. For all we know, he never was called “Jesus” or the “Christ” at any point during his life. Rather, if he existed, he was referred to like every other Jew of his time and place — by his Jewish name (Joshua Ben Joseph for instance). Jesus may have been somewhat radical in his message but it was still a radically JEWISH message that did not stray one iota from Jewish thinking.

Do Unto Others is a deeply Jewish way of thinking. Of course a lifelong Jew like Jesus would have thought that way. The everlasting genius that was Jesus (whoever, however, whatever he was) comes from his ability to articulate that profound message (in English anyway) in three simple words that anyone can understand. And it’s not hard to do. It’s not hard to figure out “how to do”. You just do it.

Jesus also taught you don’t need a temple or a high priest to talk to Yahweh. Go directly to the father was how Jesus put it. Talk to Yahweh yourself.

That puts priests and the church they’re sitting in into a bind. Jesus says his followers don’t need them to follow him. That makes priests and their churches completely redundant. “Useless,” my construction worker friends used to say (I worked construction briefly during the WGA strike of 1988), “As titties on a bull”.

So where the hell did priests and a church come from if it wasn’t part of Jesus’s “plan”? It came from the same place most of the early church’s mythology came from — Paul, The Apostle. It’s a simple fact. Jesus wrote 0% of the New Testament while Paul wrote about 30% of it, give or take. 27 texts make up the NT. 13 to 14 are attributed to Paul, 7 of them with absolute certainty. Even if the rest attributed to Paul weren’t actually written by him, still they speak from Paul’s point of view; they aspire to tell Paul’s version of events.

The bulk of Paul’s contribution are the letters he wrote to the new, burgeoning Christian communities beginning to form around the eastern Roman world. In them, he describes a Jesus he never met as if he knew him intimately. He speaks for Jesus and begins to lay out the ideas that later writers — the early church fathers — would use to craft an entire mythology out of whole cloth — that springboarded from Jewish culture and custom into the fantastical world of the New Testament.

If you brought Jesus back to life today and explained modern Christianity to him, Jesus would have no idea what you were talking about.

If you did the same thing to Paul, you’d get a completely different reaction. Paul would recognize the story. He’d be taken by all the new additions to what he started (though he’d probably find Mormonism — where Jesus visits North America — a continent Jesus never knew even existed — as especially egregious). Paul started as Saul From Tarsus who “converted” on the road to Damascus after experiencing an epiphany. As Paul, he became determined to spread Jesus’s message even if the message Paul was spreading had nothing to do with Jesus or his actual message.

To that end, Paul aligned Jesus with Jewish tradition (which, being Jewish, Paul was knowledgeable about) and the mythology he created (at first), struggled hard to line up Jesus with the attributes and story precedents required to justify Jesus as the “messiah”. If Jesus was indeed the prophesied messiah, he needed to fit into a certain box with certain attributes. He needed to be related to King David… needed to be born in Bethlehem (regardless of where he was actually born)… needed to be born of a virgin (not sure where that came through but the world Jesus and Paul came from believed deeply in magic and magical powers and Paul’s was not the first version of a new god being born of an old god and a human).

Paul’s genius — the thing that gave his creation (Christianity) legs — was how he employed Jesus — as a kind of mascot — for a pretty radical idea (for then just as for now): “Want to beat Death? Believe in Jesus.”

That’s really what Christianity is all about — eternal life. It was never part of Jesus’s message because he never met Paul — and never heard the wacky ideas that Paul had in his head. As the early church fathers — the men who came after Paul and set out to finish the work that Paul started — settled in to their roles, they expanded upon Paul’s mythology.

Christianity as we know it today has almost nothing to do with Jesus. He really is just a Ronald McDonald-like mascot selling “Do Unto Others” burgers to suckers. Church buildings do more to undermine any congregation’s integrity than all the atheists combined. Buildings are expensive to build, expensive to maintain. Every church has to do that math: what does it take to have a church and what does it take to keep that church operational, the doors open & the lights on? The answer? Lots and lots of money.

Jesus, as far as we can tell from the message that filtered down to us, was deeply into the spiritual side of things. He didn’t teach how to manage a church’s finances so as to keep it in the black. Do Unto Others. That’s it.

Now — picture Jesus actually getting to have that second coming Paul and HIS followers imagined for Jesus. Finally, Jesus gets to rise from the dead for all to see and acknowledge. There’ll be no disputing it this time. Jesus comes back and sees for himself what Paul did and what sprang from what Paul did.

Does Jesus ever stop projectile vomiting?

I think not.

Why Do They Even Call It “Christianity” When Their Religion Has Nothing To Do With Jesus & Never Did…

I’ll confess right here — lifetime atheist though I am, I am also a big time fan of Jesus. I don’t know for sure if a historical Jesus ever existed but someone like the character depicted in the New Testament seems to have put forward a teaching — “Do Unto Others” — drawn directly from the Jewish culture into which he was born and lived his entire life — that, today, still resonates loudly across the millennia.

In 1985, a group of actual bible scholars (people with actual academic degrees from reputable institutions of higher learning as opposed to bullshit degrees from bullshit Christian universities with bullshit standards and zero integrity) got together and formed The Jesus Seminar. Their goal — apply some serious objective analysis to the NT texts so as to coax out, as best they could, an historical Jesus.

The Seminar identified 15 or so phrases unanimously agreed upon by the canonical gospels which, the seminar felt, could have been spoken by a historical Jesus — so as to be disseminated by his followers. The Jesus who steps from the pages of the Seminar’s analysis has a simple message — Do Unto Others (which includes suffering the Little Children to come unto you) and, if you need to speak to god, go to “the father” directly. You don’t need a church to intercede on your behalf. GO DIRECTLY!”

If you recall from the stories about Jesus, he didn’t like the money changers. He didn’t like that the temple authorities allowed the money changers inside the temple’s forecourt. That, Jesus taught, debased the core message. It invalidated the temple’s authority to speak for god or to even pretend that they could intercede on their followers’ behalves.

Jesus advocates AGAINST having churches or religious “authorities”. So — how come there’s a Christian “church”? How could so gigantic a contradiction sit right in the heart of the Christian faith itself? The answer is ask Paul.

Paul (the former Saul of Tarsus) invented Christianity. The majority of the NT texts are Paul’s letters & epistles to the various gentile communities to which he was spreading his version of Jesus, Jesus’ story and Jesus’ message. Remember — Paul never met Jesus. Never spoke to him. Never heard his voice.

For a good, solid understanding of and perspective on Paul, I recommend A. N. Wilson’s excellent book Paul: The Mind Of An Apostle.

While Paul started by selling his version of Jesus to the Jews, they didn’t want it — because Paul’s version wasn’t authentic. Gentiles didn’t have any history or knowledge of Jewish customs, thought or mythology so Paul’s contorted version — virgin birth in Bethlehem, wise men presaging greatness, rising from the dead — seemed perfectly authentic. Never mind the fact that it was all invented, top to bottom. When Paul speaks of Jesus, he never stresses the messages Jesus himself stressed.

That’s because historical Jesus was of no use to Paul. So he invented a new Jesus. A Jesus that worked for him. Paul invented the Jesus that smiled upon the Catholic Church — an institution Jesus would have hated with every single atom of his being. Don’t hurt yourself laughing so hard, Protestants — your version of Jesus is just as disconnected from reality.

We won’t even talk about the Mormons (whose version of Jesus even visited North America — a place the real Jesus had no way of knowing even existed).

Ya know how, these days, we can’t figure out why Christians are so… “un-Christian”? This is why. The problem isn’t them, it’s us. All those people are being COMPLETELY Christian. What they aren’t being are “followers of Jesus”. To follow Jesus means all those devout Christians would have to denounce their “Christianity” — and all the oppressive, regressive, obsessive rules and regs that are the real appeal of their faith — and, instead, become spiritual. That ain’t happening.

To follow Jesus, one must be spiritual or have the capacity for spirituality. That’s the opposite of following a religion. Religions are crowd control. They are defined by their rules & their structures — and those structures don’t build or sustain themselves. The money has to come from somewhere which is why churches work so hard to get bodies into the pews and money from the pockets in those pews. Churches don’t really exist for the benefit of anyone’s faith, they exist for the benefit of themselves. Churches are like sharks (and relationships) — they have to keep moving or they’ll die.

If a historical Jesus could come back, he surely would not recognize the faith being touted as his creation. That’s because it isn’t his — and never was. It pains me deeply to quote Woody Allen but he got this one right. If Jesus were to come back to see what’s been done in his name, “he would never stop throwing up”.