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?

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.

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.

The Most Frustrating Thing About Anti-Semitism Is What It’s Based On: NOTHING

I’ve said here before that I grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust — in a Jewish suburb of Baltimore just 20 years after the camps were liberated. Many survivors lived in my community. I can tell you from experience — it’s damned hard for a little kid to wrap his young mind around that much hatred for who he is when, as far as he knows — he’s done nothing to deserve it.

The Nazis didn’t invent anti-Semitism, of course, they merely industrialized it — finding ways to make money off the hatred via forced labor and even body parts. If Spain had had similar technology at its disposal, I’m sure the Spanish Inquisition would have been even ghastlier and more gruesome & cruel than it was.

In between the Spanish Inquisition (well before it too) all the way up to the Holocaust, anti-Semitism saw plenty of other outlets — pogroms and other mass murders of Jews often when the Christians decided they didn’t want to pay back the money the Jews had loaned them. The church made it hard for anyone other than Jews to lend money. Follow that? The Church made it illegal for anyone except Jews to lend money — though the Church also understood that the lending & borrowing of money was essential to the Church’s economic survival. Massive churches don’t pay for themselves to be built — or kept up.

The Church made anti-Semitism part of its economic strategy. In a perverse way, it was genius.

But where did the Church’s Jew-hatred start?

Jesus — if he existed in any way as the person we think he was — did not invent Christianity. He was born, lived and died a Jew. Back in the 1970’s, Bible scholar Robert Funk put together The Jesus Seminar — a group of about 50 critical biblical scholars and 100 laymen who wanted to tease out a historical Jesus from the Gospels. That Jesus taught a very simple message: Do Unto Others.

He also taught that one did not need a temple or its high priests to speak to Yahweh (the God character’s actual name). One could go to “the father” directly.

So where did a “church” come from? Where did Christianity come from? That’d be Paul — the former Saul of Tarses. If Saul never has his moment on the road too Damascus, Christianity never gets invented — because Paul’s the guy who invented Christianity.

The bulk of the NT is Paul’s work — his epistles to the far flung churches HE was nurturing and encouraging. But encouraging to do & believe what? What was Paul selling? Paul tried hard to sell his version of Jesus to the Jewish community except they weren’t interested. Paul never met Jesus. Never heard his voice or heard his teachings directly. But Paul did have an agenda — and after the Jewish community rejected him (and what he was selling), he turned his attention to the Helenized-Roman Gentile world.

Paul needed to sell Jesus as The Messiah. And Paul’s Messiah (here’s Paul’s genius) was the answer to “But what do we do about death?” Paul promised that belief in Jesus would allow the believer to live forever. This was all based on a strange re-imagining of strange Jewish mythology. To justify Jesus being the Messiah, Paul and the early Church fathers (picking up the myth-making where Paul left off) created a hodgepodge of texts and documents that told a muddled, confused story.

It wasn’t until the First Council of Nicaea (325 AD) that the church itself tried to make sense of its own confounding, contradictory story. That’s the problem: IT WAS ALWAYS A STORY.

It’s a little like having your tribe be hated because of something Ron Weasley said in the Harry Potter books.

Jews have had the damnedest time defending themselves against anti-Semitism because it’s impossible to argue against bullshit. Bullshit always have the luxury of being bullshit. It never has to worry about being true or real. It never has to justify itself. It never even has to defend itself. It just falls apart and blows away.

It’s a strange experience to have another person look you in the eye and insist that you and your tribe are evil and deserve to be hated, tortured, killed and reviled because of a story. Even stranger? Knowing the person looking at you with all that hate knows less about their own religion than you do.

99% of Christian churches only ever treat Jesus as a mascot anyway. He’s Ronald McDonald selling forgiveness for your sins instead of Big Macs. Jesus — if he could rise from the dead — would never stop being disgusted by what Paul did in Jesus’ name to Jesus’ own tribe.

The Bible Is What Happens When Books Meant To Answer “One” Question Are Used To Answer Another…

I’ve always said Hebrew School made me the atheist I am today. That’s not entirely true. I have been an atheist since inception. Hebrew School simply closed the deal.

But I don’t regret any of my religious education (which lasted from age 6 to 14). I genuinely learned a lot from it. In particular, I had one truly excellent teacher — Henry Hyman. Mr. Hyman taught this: the bible is a religious text. It isn’t a reliable work of history. But, as a religious text, it is incredibly valuable.

In other words, Mr. Hyman taught “perspective”.

I remember one especially meaningful conversation I had with Mr. Hyman. It was probably when I was 12 or 13. Like I said, I was born an atheist. Skepticism runs in my blood alongside the red and white blood cells. I bumped hard on the Abraham almost sacrifices Isaac story — and I said so.

I’m sure I didn’t articulate well what bothered me then but the same terrible lesson still disturbs me: Jews are meant to revere Abraham (the foundational “First Jew”) because of his absolute fealty to Yahweh. If Yahweh says “kill your son” (“sacrifice” being a kinder-gentler way of saying “murder in cold blood”), we’re supposed to look to Abraham for guidance. Well, we’re meant to think, since Ol’ Abe was down with killing his son, who are we to go a different way?

To Mr. Hyman’s credit, he tried very hard to sell the metaphorical qualities of the story as a whole over the more disturbing, realistic story beats themselves. I wasn’t having it. In the end, Mr. Hyman encouraged me to continue asking questions. Either I was going to find an answer inside the faith that satisfied me or I wasn’t. That he appreciated that fact — that he encouraged a 12 year old to think that way — I am eternally grateful.

Want to have a religious debate? The bible — OT or NT — are excellent resources. Want to know anything about history? Avoid the bible like the plague. Yeah, sure, there’s “background information” — lots of good insight into both Jewish culture and how Jewish culture thinks about itself. But if you want the historical record backing up your “faith”? Prepare to be disappointed.

As Mr. Hymn said: “The bible is not a work of history”. No, it absolutely is not. Fact — it is debatable that Hebrews were ever slaves in Egypt. The Egyptians kept records. Lots of them (they’re called “Hieroglyphics”.) Nowhere in those records do we find Hebrew slaves building pyramids or a Hebrew prince rescued from certain death, raised by an Egyptian princess and slowly remade into a kind of Hebrew Avenging Angel.

Someone made that story up. Or they took a small thing and wrote it larger. Kinda like how Paul did with Jesus. If Saul of Tarsus never has his “come to Jesus” moment on the Road to Damascus, then Christianity never happens.

Jesus — whoever he actually was — did not “invent” Christianity. If you sat him down today and explained to him what “Christianity” was, he’d look at you like you were nuts for suggesting HE was its “founder”. Jesus was born a Jew, lived his whole life as a Jew and died a Jew.

As for creating the Christian church, what we can ascribe to Jesus (at least it’s one of his more consistently reported on teachings) is a very simple (and very Jewish) message — “Do Unto Others”. Also “You don’t need a church in order to have a relationship with god”. Jesus’s message is spiritual perfection — it teaches people how to live a good, happy, successful life and it even teaches them how to do it: be nice to people.

But, of course, not everyone wants to see these religious texts for what they are. We have a whole segment of our population — uber Christians, evangelicals & fundamentalists — who believe that the words of the bible magically appeared on parchment. They say “divine inspiration” motivated the writing.

J. K. Rowling feels exactly the same way. She might not call the inspiration “divine” but her readers do.

Using the bible — old or new testaments — as anything other than a dated “how to live in the past” manual is guaranteed to screw up your life. Ask yourself: if the men who wrote those texts had been aware of germ theory, if they’d had access to microscopes and telescopes and the internet and all the information we now have today about our bodies, the natural world, the cosmos, would they have written the texts they wrote in exactly the same way?

Doubtful. Do televangelists avoid electricity because it would have been unknown to Jesus? Of course not! Modern religionistas use technology when it suits them to accomplish their goals. If any religious work’s author had had access to our modern knowledge base, it would have fundamentally changed what they wrote.

That makes it even more appalling when the faithful try to use their religious texts to answer science questions. They’re compounding the ignorance of the past by continuing to make it part of the present. Wrong information doesn’t suddenly become right.

Bullshit doesn’t suddenly become true.

Magic doesn’t suddenly become real.

The bible doesn’t suddenly become anything other than a story based loosely on reality.

Here’s What Happens When We “Pull Back The Lens” — And We NEED To Pull It Back NOW…

Lack of perspective kills.  A swimmer who sees only the immediate water around them – lovely and turquoise – but not the school of hungry sharks circling that lovely bit of turquoise?  That swimmer is chum. 

Religionistas will insist that their deity wants them to live according to the rules set down by ignorant (by our standards) iron age desert dwellers because everything anyone needed to know was “known” and set down in the texts those iron age desert dwellers produced.  But, what if those iron age desert dwellers, before they sat down to write, had had access to all the information we take for granted today? 

What if those scribes had known that microbes and pathogens cause most human diseases?  What if they knew what RNA and DNA are? What if they had a Hubble Space Telescope and every bit of its remarkable data flow to chew on?  Would they have written texts that killed people with magical plagues or put the earth at the center of everything?

If the men who wrote the OT had read Darwin or Stephen Hawking, if they had taken in a geology text book or a scientific paper on genetics, if they had ever gotten a chance to use the internet – would they have sat down and written the texts they wrote the exact same way?

Doubtful.

The people who wrote, edited and put together the canonical New Testament used significant portions of the old texts as the basis for their new texts.  The mythology Paul created leaned heavily on the Pentateuch.  The whole basis for original sin is Eve and the Garden of Eden.  If the men who wrote the originals never wrote those originals – because they were better informed about how the world really worked – the course of human history would have been radically different.

We may not have been any less self-destructive (homo sapiens are still homo sapiens) but at least we would have been denied that particular flavor of bullshit to use as an excuse. 

So – if the people who wrote the religious texts so many Americans say they rely on as the basis for their lives had been just a teensy bit more educated via access to modern technologies – had they been able to “pull the lens back” even a little — human history would have been spared the chaotic, illogical darkness that certain religions have repeatedly inflicted upon humanity.

By the same token — if our Main Stream News Media were able to find the widest possible lens they can find, they might finally be able to tell the story we’re all living through.  Nearly three years in to this nonsense, there are STILL reporters (like NBC News’ well-meaning but hopelessly feckless Kelly O’Donnell) who repeat back Donald Trump’s words as if he spoke gospel truth.  It never occurs to them to contextualize Trump by saying – before repeating his words – that nothing he says is reliable. 

They don’t.  They position their reporting lens inside Trump’s bubble – where bullshit is true just because Trump says so.  They report from inside the lie with the lie as their only apparent frame of reference.  Either they genuinely believe the lie is true or they lack the perspective to see and report the relationship between lie and truth.  Either way, they render themselves useless to We The People just when we need them most.

At the end of the day, when the smoke can finally clear and we see this story with whatever perspective we can before our generation literally dies off (and real perspective finally has a chance to flower), I bet we’ll post mortem the press this way: they failed on two major counts.  First – Lack Of Perspective. Too often, our press has turned a laser focus on a piece of the larger story.  While their focus was admirable, the fact that they lost perspective while focusing in so intently was not.  For all the detail a guy like NBC’s Steve Kornacki can tell you about how voters vote, he never places them in the context of their times.

We have never lived through what we’re living through now.  We have never had elections stolen by foreign countries before (at least not that we’re aware of).  We have never experienced one party tossing out the Rule Of Law in a desperate grab for permanent minority rule.  When these things happen, it kinda changes things.  It’s like someone shitting in the pool.  Is swimming in it – with turds bobbing around – the same experience?

No, Steve Kornacki, it is not.  Steve epitomizes this sort of “intense focus” journalism.  He can tell you everything you want to know about a particular grain of sand.  Ask him where the grain of sand IS – on a beach?  In the middle of the Sahara?  In some kid’s sand box in a suburb somewhere?

Steve has no idea.  That’s a problem where storytelling is concerned.

Second – Failure Of Imagination.  It’s directly related to the first problem – lack of perspective.  It’s kinda the “ouch” to lack of perspective’s “pinch”.  If you can’t really see what the problem (or the story) is, you can’t possibly solve it (or report it accurately). 

What happens when we pull back the lens on most of our Main Stream News Media is we see that they’re failing us – failing their Constitutionally mandated role as final check on power.  I suggest we keep the lens back here.  Their close up is really, really ugly.