Let’s Talk About Dogma & American Journalism

On the “Faitheism Project Podcast” I do with my dear friend Randy Lovejoy — a Presbyterian Pastor — we draw a distinction between spirituality and religion. Everyone — atheist, theist or agnostic — experiences awe as we gaze up at the cosmos. We are all very much connected to this massively huge universe. That relationship between each of us and the universe — that’s our spirituality. Religion attempts to quantify and codify it: “Here’s how it’s done!” If you want to experience the promise the religion swears will be yours, first, you’re going to have to follow the rules. The religion’s rules. Want to be a good Catholic? Do these things we tell you to do — or we’ll adjudge you an apostate and deny you even exist. Dogma quickly overtakes the spirituality it’s supposed to service. The next thing you know, the dogma gets all the attention while the spiritual quest gets nada.

American journalism works the same way.

The Constitution mentions only one occupation that isn’t an employee of the US government: journalism. Journalists were imagined as the final check on power. The Peoples’ backstop. That’s the spiritual mandate journalism in America is supposed to follow. Occasionally, that dedication to the Truth produces transcendence like Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate coverage or the 1619 Project. But, too often — way too often — American journalism surrenders its integrity in the name of “access”. That only happens during Republican admins by the way. The George W Bush White House got good at limiting access to “journalists” like the New York Times’ Judith Miller. Judith genuinely believed (still does) that she didn’t sell her soul to gain access to Dick Cheney. I’ve seen picture of Judith’s soul — sitting in solitary confinement. She sold it all right. Sold it all the way down the river.

Dogma naturally produces cynicism because it breaks the world down into them v us. Anyone not us — that’s a lot of people — is suspect. American politics are steeped in cynicism but not because “both sides do it”. Both sides are not cynical though Democrats should have been cynical about Republicans eons ago. That’s the Democrats’ recurring problem — like the news media, they keep giving the benefit of the doubt to a group of people not deserving it.

They do that because of the dogma that says “everyone’s opinion carries the same weight” or the one that says “the news media’s job is to remain eternally neutral”. Or the one that says “Republicans are better with money and the nation’s security”. Or “Republicans are the party of personal responsibility” or “The Party of Lincoln” or even just “honest actors”. Our news media has been telling us our story but through dogma’s lens. None of those dogmatic assumptions are even remotely true.

Donald Trump’s rise was entirely dogmatic. But then, everything the Republicans do is dogmatic because their end game demands it. You can’t get to permanent minority rule without rigidly adhering to a plan — and the state of permanent minority rule will be a whole rabbit hole of dogma. It became dogma that Trump’s hold on the GOP has everything to do with Trump’s base. It became dogma that a former Trump hater like Lindsey Graham “changed his mind about Trump more or less ‘just because’.” It became dogma that Trump was crafty — that’s how he avoided going to prison before this. That Trump was the “great businessman” and “negotiator” he said he was. That horse shit flavored dogma got invented by “The Apprentice”.

It became dogma that what Trump and the GOP were doing to America’s democracy was just their “opinion” being manifested as opposed to what it was and is: a criminal act being committed for a political purpose.

It became dogma that every time the Republicans did something for their political reason, the Democrats’ reaction was equally political. When Republicans suppressed Democratic voters, that was just Republicans “being political”. No. That’s them BEHAVING CRIMINALLY — denying other Americans their Constitutional right to vote.

It became dogma that we should stay in Afghanistan forever. That the lives we’d risk by staying there were just “the cost of doing business”. It became dogma that everything bad happening in and to Afghanistan more or less started the instant Joe Biden took the oath of office.

It remains dogma that Republicans are good actors — despite their relentless bad behavior. It remains dogma that “bi-partisanship” is a good thing and should be done at all costs. Just because it’s “bi-partisan”. It’s remains dogma therefore that making deals with the Devil are okie-dokie.

American journalism’s addiction to dogma over truth has brought us to this moment where we’re poised at the edge of a precipice. On one side is the very real promise of E Pluribus Unum — an America that lives up to both its potential and its true exceptionalism. On the other is the white people hell bent on destroying the greatest experiment ever in human self government because no one will vote for the America THEY want: the one back in 1850 where THEY had all the power.

Power creates dogma, too. It’s the hardest dogma to break. Imagine if our news media both understood and relished the job they committed themselves to do — BE the last check on power instead of the ones preaching power’s dogma.

If You Haven’t Sampled The Faitheism Project Podcast, This Is A Good One To Sample

Our sister site — The Faitheism Project Podcast — just dropped its latest podcast and (okay, I’m biased), I really recommend it.

In “The Faitheism Project Podcast”, a devout atheist (me) and a Presbyterian Pastor (my friend Randy Lovejoy) sit down to discuss spirituality — as opposed to religion. They are, in fact, two very different things. And, once you make that distinction, a conversation about religion becomes less contentious because, as Randy and I keep discovering, all of us, really, are on the same kind of spiritual journey; we just use different vocabulary to describe it. The Faitheism Project Podcast opens up the discussion by removing judgment. It’s not about winning an argument. It’s about discovering our commonality where we least expect to find it.

In this episode, Randy lets his hair down. He talks with remarkable candor about his actual spiritual process — the path that led him to where he is. It’s been challenging in ways both spiritual and physical. He’s been to some pretty remote places, put himself in harm’s way because he truly wanted to help those who most needed help by going TO them and directly helping. We’ve all got a horrible travel story or two in our past — especially one where either food or water and our gut went to war with each other.

Randy’s stories beat anything I’ve got hands down — for which I am grateful.

In this podcast, I also do a tribute to my old boss the action movie director Dick Donner. Dick was my boss back when I ran “Tales From The Crypt” for HBO. Dick — if you don’t know — produced and directed the “Lethal Weapon” movies, “Scrooged”, “The Goonies”, “Timeline”, a gazillion TV shows (back in the 60’s) and the horror classic “The Omen”.

Dick had a theory as to why “The Omen” succeeded as massively as it did. And his theory had something to do with the family Bible that sat in many American homes (unread of course).

There’s also a YouTube version (if you prefer to watch).

Please enjoy!

Maybe Monotheism’s The Problem…

I have always been grateful to Hebrew School for making me the atheist I am today. I mean that in the nicest way possible. I’m pretty sure I dropped from the womb a total non-believer, but whatever lingering doubts I had about atheism being “the truth faith” were swept aside by eight years of religious education. The story that iced it for me — made following my tribe’s faith a total non-starter — was the “Abraham and Isaac” story. The three Abrahamic religions all hold up Abraham as “the first monotheist”. In actual historical fact, whoever “Abraham” actually was, while he may have been an early convert from polytheism to monotheism, he was by no means the first human to toss all the other gods in favor of just one, in Abraham’s case, Yahweh. The “innovation” in the Hebrews’ monotheistic creation was their deity’s relationship with people. Yahweh wanted one, having personally created us.

None of the characters in the Abraham-Isaac story made sense to me — even when I was a kid. Yahweh the god is petulant and petty. He’s powerful enough to create literally everything in existence, yet out-of-his-mind-neurotic because humans keep screwing up. Are there any other worlds out there this Yahweh character feels compelled to keep flooding and destroying because he got one of the pieces wrong? How many generations of human — after Adam and Eve — did it take for people to forget Yahweh created them? Why would Yahweh — creator of everything — let a single human get that wrong to begin with? If Yahweh created everything, why would he countenance the creation of other gods — even if only inside peoples’ minds? And, what kind of father is Abraham? He’s a couple hundred years old (per the text) and wants, more than anything, a son with his wife Sarah (whose baby-making machinery was equally old, but never mind!) He has a son with Sarah’s maid Hagar (Ishmael — the foundational character in Islam’s story) but it’s not the same. Finally Sarah bears Abraham the son he’s always wanted.

And, what does this loving, doting, adoring father do one day — with the son that he loves more than life itself — when the voice in his head says, “Hey, Abe — grab your kid and a sharp knife: we’ve got some business to transact”, what does Abe do? He takes that child he loves more than life itself to the place the imaginary voice in his head told him to. If the voice says “sacrifice your son”, that’s what Abe’s doing, no second thoughts. If not for the intercession of an angel — who offers up a goat as a sacrifice to replace Isaac (and what did the poor goat do to get hauled into this bloodbath?) — Abraham murders his own child, end of story.

I remember thinking back then “And the point of this story is…?” I grasped but couldn’t then articulate the perversity of monotheism and its strange “asks”. To accept monotheism, you have to accept Yahweh. And, to accept Yahweh, you have to accept a deeply flawed human creation. Only a human would think Yahweh, as written, is much of a deity. I bet among actual deities, Yahweh couldn’t get hired to bus tables at the Deity Café. He certainly wouldn’t get invited to sit down with them and play in any of their reindeer games. Yahweh’s too puny.

Or, is Yahweh too clearly what he is — a human creation? That’s an important distinction if we’re discussing the Creator Of Everything. Who created who first? Considering as Yahweh wasn’t the first god a human ever invented and wasn’t even the first god that the Hebrews followed (they also followed ElBaalAsherah, and Astarte before the cult of Yahweh over-rode all the other gods and the Hebrews settled on Yahwh as their “Hear, Oh, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one”.

Here in the west, we tell ourselves that monotheism was an evolutionary step above polytheism. It was in the sense that monotheism emerged after polytheism as a new way to see the world. But is monotheism an “improvement” the way evolving webbing between our fingers would make us better swimmers? Did monotheism’s creation in the human mind produce improvements to human life for having been created? One could argue yes. In praise of monotheism, great buildings rose. Great art was made. Much thinking has been directed towards it. But, one could also argue that monotheism has been a curse.

It all comes down to Yahweh. As written, Yahweh has it in for his human creations. He tried once already to wipe us all out via flood (if you accept the stories as reality — a dubious thing to do). Apparently the new humans that rose after Noah were no better than the rotten humans that preceded Noah. Yahweh felt they were so rotten that he’d have to create a mechanism to “absorb” all that human rottenness, dispose of it somehow and then permanently redeem these creatures who constantly disappoint him. Yahweh created a “son”. But, not just a son — a way (if you believe in that son just the right way) to beat the thing that scares humans most: death.

The Jews ultimately evolved Yahweh into a creature who commanded them to make the world a better place for them having been it. The Christian world evolved Yahweh into a bully who insists you believe in his son — and his son’s ability to conquer death — or he’ll kill you.

Jesus taught you don’t need a temple or its priests (or a church and ITS priests) to have a relationship with God. And, by the way? Do unto others. But that’s not how the Paul heard it or sold it. He downplayed the “Do unto others” part and cranked up the dogmatic rules involved in beating death by believing in Jesus. To Paul’s credit, his invention was sheer genius. It’s longevity speaks to that. Christianity isn’t a religion you embrace if you want to “Do unto others” (you can do that without it), it’s one you embrace if you want to “live forever”. That’s the “good news” inside every Christian’s “testimony” — a dubious path to eternal life.

Once taken up by a believer, monotheism can morph into authoritarianism faster than any other belief system. How can it not? Where’s the check on Yahweh’s voice? It’s not like Yahweh walks in the door a rational character. His only real innovation is the ability to reproduce with humans. And what does Yahweh have in mind for his child? Death. If the mythology is going to work — if Jesus is going to be proven the actual “messiah” — then a bunch of things have to line up (at least in the telling). To begin with, Jesus has to die because Eve disobeyed Yahweh when she ate from the tree of knowledge thus committing the “original sin”. On top of that, Jesus also has to come from the priestly line and then from King David’s line to boot. Plenty of gymnastics to pull off there.

Plenty of dogma, too. Spirituality demands zero dogma. Religion relies on it exclusively to suck you in and keep you in. Monotheism relies upon the most rigid dogma of all — because it’s deity is so rigid (even at his most “forgiving”). “I am the Lord, your God and thou shalt have no other gods except me!” Gosh, Yahweh, when ya put it that way

What if the monotheist’s core assertion is wrong? What if there is a deity of sorts out there, but it’s not named Yahweh and the deity’s on a completely different mission than the knowledge-challenged Yahweh? What if Yahweh was as real as Harry Potter or Voldemort? Here’s the problem — if I base everything I think on a false premise — if Yahweh isn’t “the guy” despite what Yahweh cultists insist (what if Buddha cultists are right instead?) then literally everything that I do because I believe in Yahweh rests upon a flawed foundation. My core reason for doing anything is based on nonsense.

Or the wrong god maybe… .

The bottom line is this: religion itself is inert until a human being picks it up and puts it on. The “armor of Christ” that the Apostle Paul urged Christians to wear only becomes real and fully active inside a believer’s head. Even a “loving God” needs to be defended to the death.

I take it back. It’s not monotheism that’s made a mess of the world, it’s monotheists.

How Did “Do Unto Others” Become “Do What We Say”?

Ya know the game “telephone”? A person whispers something into the next person’s ear — who then whispers what they heard into the next person’s ear and so on until we get to the last person. Usually, the original message gets wildly corrupted into total gibberish which makes everyone laugh when they hear it — especially the first person. Their simple message has been turned into something totally unrecognizable.

Jesus would totally get how they feel.

“Do unto others”.

That was Jesus’s simple message. It’s actually one of the core messages of Judaism. Jews are obligated to fix the world. Not through proselytizing others — conversion really isn’t a thing for Jews and never has been — but through moral acts. Act morally toward others and, one hopes, they will act morally toward you. Act kindly, respectfully, helpfully, lovingly…

Nowhere in there is judgment. Jesus didn’t say “Do unto others — or else” or “Do unto others — the way I tell you to”. He didn’t even teach how to speak to Yahweh. He just taught his followers that they could speak to him directly; they didn’t need a temple or its corrupt priests to speak to Yahweh on their behalf. Also pretty simple.

So, how did it get so freakin’ complicated where — in order to speak to this supposedly loving god — you, first, have to subjugate yourself? How did “Do unto others” become a complicated story of a man-god born of a virgin who was put here to die for everyone’s sins? Where is THAT in “Do unto others”?

The problem is Jesus didn’t invent Christianity, Paul did. The bulk of the NT is made up of Paul’s communications with the burgeoning Christian communities forming across the Roman world. Paul didn’t know Jesus. Never met him. And, since Jews weren’t buying Paul’s version of Jesus (and his message), Paul took his message to the gentiles — all the communities he was writing to.

Paul was selling a way to beat death: believe in the story I’m telling you and you can, like Jesus, rise from the dead albeit in the afterlife where you’ll get to live happily ever after with everyone you loved. Sounds perfect! Who wouldn’t want that, right? Never mind that it’s nonsense. Never mind that it’s got nothing to do with Jesus, his message or even any sort of Jewish message. It’s pure invention — and genius. But it’s invention all the same.

There’s a gigantic difference between spirituality — how one relates to things larger than oneself — and religion — the codification of ritual designed (in theory) to help one realize one’s spirituality. It’s literally the opposite of what Jesus taught. That’s what made Jesus so radical — he taught reject the institutionalization of your spiritual quest, not dive deeper into the ooga-booga.

Paul, don’t forget, was relating a messiah story as the basis for how one was going to beat death. The messiah, the story says, was prophesied. It’s all “foretold” so there’s no point resisting it. If Jesus was the messiah, he needed to fit the prophesy to a “t” — even if the real Jesus didn’t. For Paul, the real, historical, “Do Unto Others” Jesus became both inconvenient and irrelevant.

And, so, Paul (and the church he was inventing) ditched Jesus. They kept his name (well, they kept the name they’d assigned him; Jesus’s real name was some version of Joshua ben Joseph per the culture’s nomenclature not “Jesus” which meant “savior”. Paul was pitching his evolving mythology to gentiles — unfamiliar with original texts he was talking about. Paul could twist what the texts said or meant into anything he wanted — no one was going to contradict him in the gentile world.

Jesus and “Do Unto Others” became mascots — early but clever marketing that had very little to do with the actual product being sold. Because “Do Unto Others” was too, too simple a message, the early church invented “original sin” to justify Jesus’s dying in their storytelling.

Quick — if Jesus’s purpose in being born to begin with was to die for every human being’s sins going back to Eve’s original sin in the Garden of Eden, then why is it a problem (from a storytelling point of view) for Judas to betray him? If Judas doesn’t betray Jesus and Jesus lives on, dying peacefully in his bed, an old man, doesn’t that screw up Jesus dying for humanity’s sins? Either Jesus is put here for a purpose (like the prophesy says) or he’s not. You can’t have it both ways.

Unless you’re making it up, in which case you can say whatever you want. Like believe what I’m telling you or die.

The history of the Catholic church especially may be the most un-Jesus-like story imaginable. The various Protestant churches haven’t done unto others any better.

But then, churches are all about self-preservation. They have to be. Churches are expensive to build and expensive to maintain. It takes money and to keep the money flowing to it, every church needs members — the more the better. And to make sure the church members donate regularly and adequately, it’s important to make them understand their choices. Give or die. Belong to the church or die. Follow the church’s rules — or die.

“Do what we say — or die”.

Jesus had the uber-religious pegged. If Jesus were to rise from the dead and come a second time, he wouldn’t last long. Take this to the bank: the churches would lead the charge to arrest Jesus, charge him with some sort of crime and put him to death — because his message is so dangerous.

Some things never change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cost nothing — feels great!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I stand in awe of the cosmos regardless.

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

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

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

“I don’t know yet.”

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

“I don’t know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ignore the guard. Savor the cosmos.

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.

Spiritual People Don’t Have To Believe In Magic; Religious People (Like AG Bill Barr) DO

Last week, corrupt-to-his marrow Attorney General Bill Barr gave a now well-excoriated speech at the University of Notre Dame.

Here are a few highlights of Barr’s 1) profound ignorance, 2) profound ignorance, and 3) profound ignorance:

  • “Militant secularists,” Barr insists, are behind a “…campaign to destroy the traditional moral order”. By “traditional moral order”, of course, Bill Barr means white, Christian men like him being in complete control.
  • America’s “…traditional Judeo-Christian moral system” is under siege by “modern secularists” who, Barr insisted, are responsible for everything from drug abuse to rising suicide rates to illegitimacy.
  • Catholicism and other mainstream religions, Barr claimed, are the target of “organized destruction” by “secularists and their allies among progressives who use mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry and academia” against them, poor babies.

How about we cut to the end of the chase. Bill Barr — and people like him — use fairy tales as the basis for their life decisions. I’m not talking about Jesus here. Jesus taught “Do Unto Others” and “You Don’t Need A Church — Talk Directly To God” — two concepts totally foreign to Bill Barr. Bill Barr isn’t a follower of Jesus — he’s a Christian; a very, VERY different thing.

Bill Barr is a church-Christian (the opposite of a Jesus Follower). Bill believes in all the rubbish the Church (Paul and the early church fathers) invented out of whole cloth while they formulated what Christianity was and wasn’t. Paul, remember, was trying to match Jesus (who he never met, never heard preach) to a pre-existing messiah mythology. To make Jesus fit the story mold (and the messiah mythology is pure fiction to begin with), Paul created the basis for what we still think of as “Christianity”. The “mystery” of a virgin birth and a resurrection.

Meanwhile, off to the side, there’s Jesus — asking only that Bill Barr do unto others.

If that was the extent of Bill Barr’s religion on the rest of us — Bill doing unto others — we’d be okay, I bet. Instead, we’re faced with the fact that Bill Barr believes in all the magic — and nothing BUT the magic. And if YOU don’t believe in the magic that Bill Barr believes in?

Bill Barr thinks you are destroying America. Certainly for him.

I’m weird like this — if I go to get on an airplane — and the pilot says he doesn’t believe in physics (which is why he doesn’t have a license to pilot a plane), he believes his religious faith will keep the plane aloft — I’m not getting on that plane. Same goes for the surgeon about to work on my heart. No idea how any of my plumbing works — but you’ll pray on it before cutting into me?

Not happening.

If you tell me that magic always wins over reason and logic when you go to problem solve? I’m going to doubt every solution you pitch. Especially if the problems you’ve got in your sights are mine. You telling me you believe in magic is you telling me you’re willfully ignorant. It’s you telling me to ignore you any time there’s we need to make a decision more weighty than a lunch order.

That’s the hardest thing for religionistas to grasp. They think they’re spreading the good news. What they’re spreading is the news that they’re gullible.

Why Is It So Much Easier To Sell People Bullshit Than It Is To Give Them The Truth?

Cut to the end of the chase: even the smartest people you know have a taste for bullshit – their own. 

We all believe things that – if we actually had to back them up – we’d realize how silly we were for saying such things out loud (never mind actually believing them). We might even realize our problem’s much worse: bullshit has taken over most of our lives.

That ain’t bullshit.

I was watching the football club I follow – Tottenham Hotspur – play horribly again this morning.  With ten minutes to go, they were down 3-0 to a team they should have thumped.  Spurs lost earlier this week 7-2 to Bayern Munich in the Champion’s League.  With ten minutes to go – and defeat a dead certainty (in a week we’d been outscored 10-2 FFS!), I still experienced a moment where I thought “Hey, we’re Spurs, we can still do this!”

No, we couldn’t – and we didn’t.  We couldn’t get the ball past midfield.  We’re in a mental freefall as a team.  That’s the Truth.  It’s bullshit to think Spurs can win anything right now.

But, for a moment, I tried to convince myself that they could.  I tried to bullshit myself and I succeeded.

Bullshit is Hope’s evil twin.  Just as Hope is aspirationally positive, Bullshit is aspirationally negative.  It’s a lie easily thrown together, easily tossed off and easily forgotten – especially when new bullshit is created to replace the old.  It’s the sausage factory from the seventh ring of hell.

And yet, damned if Bullshit Brand Sausage doesn’t sell. 

For a lot of us, the addiction to bullshit starts early – with our “religious education”. That’s a non sequitur.  You can learn about religion, but to be educated IN a religion is to be fed a diet of pure, unadulterated bullshit. Religion, mind you, is entirely different from spirituality.

Spirituality is the ineffable essence of the awe any human feels as they gaze up at the cosmos and tries to see how they fit with it.  With the pure fact of “being”.

Religion is rules & regs.  It’s crowd control.  It’s the perverse corporatization of spirituality: an institution invents a “way” to spirituality – through them, through following their rules.  Followers may flirt with spiritual experience but it’s always within the context of the religion’s rules.  Any spiritual experience outside those rules?  It’s heresy.  You’re allowed the church’s definition of “spiritual” and not your own.

Funny irony?  Jesus himself preached AGAINST having a church.  He taught his followers to speak directly to god.  No need for the Temple, its authorities or priests. 

And no need to tithe any church either.  Just “Do Unto Others”.  It’s that simple.

How many American Christians “do unto others”?  Not many (relatively speaking).  Most are “church-goers”.  They’re not followers of Jesus.  They’re in it for the “exclusivity”, the clubiness. They like the mythology, too.  They like the magic behind it because the magic says they’ll never die.

Magic is sparkly bullshit. It’s no more real just because it glitters a little. 

The Truth is we’re all going to die.  There’s no escaping it. There’s no proof of any afterlife.  None. To insist that one might exist is simply magic forcing itself upon you. 

It’s me thinking Spurs could come back from three-nothing with minutes left when all the evidence said they were already in the locker room, their heads hung low.

There’s A Huge Honkin’ Difference Between Being “Spiritual” & Being “Religious”

Even a stone cold atheist can feel profound awe as he or she stares up at the stars. Atheists especially understand the scale — tiny human on a rock at the far edges of a galaxy in the middle of a billion galaxies feeling both his insignificance in the greater scheme of things while also being keenly aware that he “is” and therefore can “experience” this feeling of cosmic scale. That awe is spirituality. It’s abstract. It’s a riddle. It’s a quest.

But not everyone wants to go on a quest. They just want to live their lives and leave the heavy thinking to others: Just tell me what to believe and I’ll believe it. THAT is religion. It’s NOT about a journey or a search or an exploration. It’s about following rules. It’s about crowd control.

I grew up in a Conservative Jewish, deeply Humanist culture. That’s the middle ground between rule-following orthodoxy and total rule-rejecting reformed Judaism. In my house we rejected most of the rules. We didn’t keep kosher. Didn’t do any of that whatsoever. We went to shul on an occasional basis (for sure on the High Holidays). Though the ten commandments are a cornerstone of the faith, they’re not complicated. As rules go, they’re straightforward. Don’t do this, don’t do that. One thing we didn’t do — as a religion or culture — the institution (the synagogue) was not set up as your over-seer. Unlike the Catholic church, a synagogue never demanded that you confess every last bit of your dirt to it — so it could hold that dirt over your head in perpetuity.

THAT is how religion works.

Jesus was pretty clear in his message: Do unto others… suffer the little children unto me… the meek shall inherit the earth. He didn’t preach about how he wanted his church hierarchy to be structured because Jesus wasn’t about building churches. He was about teaching spirituality.

I mention this because Jesus is kinda the Poster Child for what happens when a spiritual message gets religion. Doing unto others requires a spiritual connection with the rest of humanity. Confession requires that you feel guilty mostly for just being human.

Isn’t that the whole point of “original sin”?

The Church’s genius — dark genius though it was — was to convince all those billions of people that being human wasn’t good enough. That instead of a spiritual journey, its followers needed to be locked in a box — like a veal being fattened up for slaughter without ever having seen the sun. The greatest threat overhanging any church member is expulsion from the group. Excommunication.

No one, it seems, gets excommunicated for diddling little boys. Question the church’s authority though and you’re gone.

A religious person looks up at the stars and wonders where their imaginary friend lives — and is that imaginary friend spying on them? A spiritual person sees a life-long journey of discovery, all to answer one question: how do I fit into that? How can I make my brief time as a sentient being more meaningful? How can I fill every moment with meaning? How can I…?

Spirituality is the freedom to explore. Religion is its diametric opposite.