There’s A HUGE Difference Between “Christians” And “Followers Of Jesus”

Question: How do you get from “Do unto others” to “Onward, Christian Soldier!”? The truth is you can’t. Even a humble atheist can “do unto others”. A Christian soldier? They do unto others before others can do unto them. That’s their idea of Jesus. In other words, they have no idea of Jesus or, whatever idea they do have of Jesus? That ain’t Jesus. I bet Jesus would be shocked (if he actually did pull off a second coming) by all the people claiming to follow him who, in fact, hate everything about him. Is there anything less Jesus-y than a horde of culture warrior Christians?

Jesus preached a simple, confident message that even an atheist can embrace, follow and find happiness in. How we got from there to, say, the Catholic church (or, even further afield, the Mormon church) is a story (and blog post) unto itself. But, that is what Christianity did — it turned a simple relationship between creator and created into a dogma-heavy obstacle course light on logic but heavy on complications. In Paul the Apostle’s defense, when you set out to found a new religion (as Paul did among the Gentiles), you have to do everything you can to cement your brand.

Paul was very definitely a Christian. As to was he a “follower of Jesus” — no, he wasn’t. Jesus, if anything, was an impediment to Paul because of his very Jewishness. Remember: the Christian movement in Jerusalem faltered because it wasn’t Christian, it was Jewish. Radical but radical Jewish. When the Romans finally sacked Jerusalem and banished all the Jews, the diaspora created was entirely Jewish. Paul meanwhile (about half the New Testament is Paul’s writing) spun his mythology further and further away from its Jewish roots and more toward something that he was inventing on the fly — a faith based entirely on “the death, resurrection, and lordship of Jesus.”

That, right there, is Paul’s brilliant innovation. It’s his true genius: he pitched a deity to the Gentiles that cared about them (polytheistic gods didn’t really care about humans the way Yahweh seemed to), who even produced a son tasked with dying for humanity’s benefit just so that they — like Jesus — could defeat death and live forever in a magical place called Heaven along with all their loved ones. That’s Christianity’s real sales pitch: believe in Jesus the way we tell you to (no questions asked) and we’ll “guarantee you” a happy eternal afterlife with your loved ones. Can the church really guarantee such a thing? Does that really matter? Of course not!

Death makes human beings irrational. We’ll cut any deal we can to try and get out of having to die. That is, some people will. To them, religion is a kind of ongoing negotiation with the universe. It’s a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card they’ll take with them to the grave where it will rot and fall apart just like they will. But, hey — why not cover that angle, right? The early Christian church slowly evolved a mythology based on a thousand years of Jewish messiah stories radically re-imagined for a Gentile audience (who didn’t care that it didn’t conformed to the original Jewish mythology since they had no knowledge of it).

Let’s be real: the Christian origin mythology is a hodgepodge of ideas that don’t add up (unless you accept all of its illogical premises). If Jesus’s whole purpose — the reason universe-creator Yahweh mates with a human virgin — is to fix the mess Eve made (according to the early church fathers, Eve daring to eat the apple and causing humanity’s fall from grace was humanity ‘s original sin). Plus — it’s by Jesus dying for humanity’s sins that God opens the door to eternal life. If Jesus never gets betrayed by Judas and never gets crucified and never dies for humanity ‘s sins then there is no resurrection.

If God created Jesus for this specific purpose then God (being all knowing) wouldn’t have zigged because Judas Iscariot zagged. God would not only have known and anticipated Judas, he’d have relied upon it — because that’s the trigger for everything else that follows. If Jesus, instead, lives to a ripe old age and dies in his bed surrounded by his loved ones then we’re not having this conversation. Judas isn’t a villain, damned for all time, he’s a story mechanism.

And, hey — blood libels are flat out stupid. It is stupid and offensive to use a poorly constructed story as a justification to hate Jews. But then Jews have never viewed the world as something to be converted into their way of thinking. Judaism is virtually non-dogmatic compared to Christianity. Yeah, sure — there are ten commandments. There are dietary laws out the wazoo and pretty much rules for everything. But Jews didn’t imagine a hell the way Christians did. There’s “Sheol” but that’s just a place where all dead people go. It was the equivalent of the Greeks’ “Hades”. And, while Jews imagined a few less than honorable divine creatures. There’s the “Dybbuk” — a malicious, possessing spirit usually associated with a dead person — but Dybbuk’s aren’t invented until the 16th century.

Jews simply don’t rely upon the heavy weight of eternal after-life punishment to motivate Jews to do anything — like follow the ten commandments. Being good is simply one’s obligation. In fact, every Jew is obligated by the core Jewish concept of “Tikkun Olam”. Every Jew is responsible for making the world a better place just for having been in it. How one accomplishes that? That’s up to you. But, once Paul and the early church organizers committed themselves to a whole after life mythology, they took it to its extremes. And the dogma piled higher and higher.

Followers of Jesus “do unto others” because that is what following Jesus actually entails. Paul and his church had no use for any sort of historical Jesus — so they quickly dispatched with that guy. Joshua ben Joseph vanished and Jesus rose in his place. Joshua ben Joseph was born lived his entire life and died a Jew (having spent his entire life preaching and teaching to Jews exclusively). If Paul could have sold the Jews in Jerusalem his version of Jesus, he wouldn’t have had to go outside Judaism. But he did — and one of the first things Paul’s new religion did was declare war on the old religion that rejected it.

It never mattered to the faithful if the mythology didn’t add up. The point of the exercise was defeating death! If the step-by-step includes hating Jews then the faithful will hate Jews because the prize is worth it.

Why does anyone take Jesus into their heart? It ain’t the same reason people succumb to a church’s song and dance. But then, all Jesus really promises his followers is a good way to live a life.

The church needs warm bodies to fill its empty space but also its coffers. It needs people willing to go along without questioning the church. It needs the “faithful”.

It needs “Christian soldiers”.

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.

I Am Sick To Death Of People Who Literally Think They’re God

Personally, I blame monotheism.

We’ve got it in our heads that monotheism was a positive evolutionary step forward from polytheism. That is, “people who believe there’s only one sky deity are more advanced in their thinking than people who think there are more than one sky deity”. Can I tell ya? From an atheist’s POV? Less of the wrong idea isn’t really an improvement over more of the wrong idea — or vice versa. When looking around at the world and wondering where did this all come from and what is the point of it all, different people in different parts of the world answered those questions differently. In their defense, they were all working with a very limited knowledge base. If the men (they had to be men — would women write about women like this?) who wrote what became the Pentateuch had had telescopes and microscopes and the internet available to them as they sat down to scribble, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have scribbled out Genesis in the same way. For one thing, they’d have had a handle on geology and its very reliable data set.

They may still have written about the world being created in seven days, but, at least the metaphor would have been clear to everyone.

East of Eden — in the high, high mountains far beyond the Canaanite desert where El morphed into Yahweh (the biblical character we call “God”) — spiritual enlightenment meant finding an answer to suffering, not eternal life with all your loved ones in a magical sky-place. If this atheist suddenly felt compelled to “run for cover”? I’d run to Buddhism. It seems the shortest distance between two points by millions and millions of miles. Still, you can’t deny the radical forward progress monotheism presented over polytheism. From a polytheist’s POV, a monotheist is an atheist (because they deny all the polytheist’s gods). But then, polytheistic faiths didn’t work at all the way monotheism does. For one thing, polytheistic gods don’t really give a crap about humans or what humans do. They’re definitely not there to serve humans or larger human needs. They don’t even work as human wish fulfillers.

Right off the bat, Yahweh is different. Eden is literal perfection. Adam is Yahweh in the flesh. Eve, on the other hand…

Yahweh punishes man because he loves us so. But mostly because we disappoint him so. All he asks is that we behave ourselves — and worship him like he was the only god in existence. That is where the trouble begins.

Jesus didn’t invent Christianity, Paul did. If you brought Jesus back from the dead (for real) and asked him what he thought about “Christianity”, Jesus would have zero idea what you were talking about. He was born, lived his whole life and died a Jew (I’m going to assume someone like Jesus existed only because of Paul’s writing about Jesus). He preached Jewish teachings to other Jews who were equally familiar with all the same ritual and mythology. If Saul Of Tarsus doesn’t have his “Road To Damascus” moment (which he writes about forcefully — like he really experienced it inside his head), he never goes to Jerusalem to try and sell his version of Jesus to Jesus’s family and all Jesus’s followers. The reason everyone Jesus knew rejected Paul’s version of Jesus is because they all knew Jesus and had heard him actually teach. Paul’s version of Jesus was just that: Paul’s version of Jesus.

Atheist that I am, I consider myself a fan o’ Jesus. “Do unto others” is an amazing message for a religious faith to preach to the world. Every religion should be so humane in its purpose. But, to be fair, “Do unto others” isn’t radical, it’s a simpler expression of “Tikkun Olam” — a central tenet of not just Jewish faith but Jewish culture. “Tikkun Olam” obligates every Jew (every person, really) to make the world a better place just for having been it it. That’s it. That’s our mission, however we choose to fulfill it. Paul saw value in “Do unto others” but that wasn’t the hook he saw in Jesus. Resurrection — that was the hook on which Paul hung his version of Jesus and the brand-spanking-new religious faith Paul invented on the fly. Paul’s pitch to the Gentiles in a nutshell: “believe in this version of Jesus — in exactly the way I’m telling you to do it — and just like Jesus did, you, too, can defeat death.”

Oh, and by the way? This Jesus guy? He’s Yahweh’s son — that’s how we know his word’s good.

So long as you believe in Yahweh — and that Yahweh had a son with a virgin human being — and that son was imagined by Yahweh as a way for humankind to fix what Eve broke — then eternal paradise awaits! Just follow those rules to the letter. Jesus may have taught “Do unto others” but his churches (which is crazy since Jesus preached against corrupt temples and their corrupt temple priests) turned that into “Do what we say — or else”. And since the “we” is speaking for God (no longer Yahweh), who are little “you” to question? How exactly does a human go from being a fallible priest one moment to being an infallible pope the next? I mean, aside from inside his own head?

Polytheism didn’t concentrate the whole power of the universe into one pair of hands the way monotheism did. Also, it doesn’t put the voices of its gods inside human minds the way Abrahamic faiths put God’s voice inside every believer’s head. Christianity took the idea of a “personal relationship with God” and ran amok with it. It’s not hard to get why it worked. Imagine the “Voice Of God” inside your head. On the one hand, yeah — it could be terrifying. Like the worst acid trip ever. But, OTOH, if God liked you… if God saw that YOU understood him like few others…

That’s what priests are, in theory — people (usually men of course) who have a better relationship with God than you ever could. They feel God’s love better than you, see his intent where you see mysteries. When God really, REALLY needs to get his point across? He knows YOU are the guy to get it across for him. That, of course, is just you putting on a show inside your head — as we all do — and giving yourself the role of “God’s Favorite”. As you look at yourself in the mirror however, with the Voice O’ God in your ears, you convince yourself (what else can this be?) that you and God have an awful lot in common.

Show me a televangelist, I’ll show you someone who thinks they’re God…

Show me a Republican politician whose religiosity is tied to their brand, I’ll show you a fraudulent toad who thinks they’re God.

Yeah — I blame monotheism.

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”.

God Goes On A Job Interview: A Sketch

SETTING: A long, featureless, fluorescent lit hallway that seems to go on forever. Approaching footsteps and heavy breathing. Whoever’s approaching must be late — and worried about it. God steps into frame, a slip of paper clutched in his powerful (to hear him talk about it) hand. He peers at the number scribbled on it. It matches the room number above the doorway. This MUST be the place.

God straightens his tie. Gives his mighty (him again) head a shake as he clears his throat in a long roll of thunder. The timbre seems right. Reminding himself that he’s the one who created all this in six days damn it, he reaches for the door knob and steps into the next room like the monotheistic deity he is.

God comes up short on the other side of the door though. He wasn’t sure what to expect here. A respected bible scholar trying to make sense of unfathomable times or a world leader struggling with a terrible choice. Or a pope maybe. He definitely wasn’t expecting the attractive but business-like young woman seated across the very plain desk, a clutch of papers in her hands. From the look of the papers — the extensive wear on them, the young woman has gone over them relentlessly.

Like she was looking for answers on them. “Sheila,” she says, extending her hand toward God like he wasn’t the deity who created literally everything.

“Erm,” says God, uncomfortable but trying not to show it, desperate to do anything but shake her hand. The Young Woman has seen his discomfort. She withdraws her hand, never taking her eyes from his face. Finally his eyes meet hers.

“Sheila,” she repeats. “I’m Sheila.” She points to the folding chair on his side of the desk. Sits in the much more comfortable rolling desk chair on her side. The one with lower lumbar support.

God looks again to the folding chair, not quite sure how to fit his enormous, glowing magnificence into it. But, he’ll try. He reminds himself again, he’s the deity here. “Nice to meet you, Sheila,” he says, smooth as the Red Sea before it parted, “I’m God”. He sits, knowing it’s just a matter of time before he wins over Sheila–

“I know what job you’re here for,” she’s halfway through saying as God snaps to, “But god’s just your job description. It’s not actually your name.”

God starts to answer. Stops. “Well, over time, I’ve gotten used to it. We all have–“

Sheila’s looking at her smart phone. She’s found a source. “Says here your name’s Yahweh.” Sheila focuses on the fine print. “Yeah,” she says confidently, “Yahweh’s your name, not ‘God’.” She points her phone’s screen (with the “receipts” on it) toward God. “God’s” just your job description,” she says. “Is that true?”

God starts to answer. Stops. “Well, I did create everything,” he says, a little less ironically than he’d hoped to. “And that,” he says, leaning forward, “Is why I think you’d be crazy to believe in anything else but me.”

Sheila stares back, hard to read. Finally — “You probably know that members of my family believe in you”.

God leans forward even further, seizing the opening. “Of course I do. They’re great people. That’s why I love them–” He knows immediately: too much.

“Do you think my family believing in you speaks well of you?”

God hesitates. He’s sure of it: that was a trick question. “Perhaps,” he says, hedging, “We could agree that being a deity is hard and sometimes you have to move in mysterious ways?”

“Uh huh,” says Sheila, unimpressed. “Did you tell my Tanta Louise that she got cancer because she fooled around so much when she was younger?”

God starts to answer. Stops. “Erm,” he says (looking as uncomfortable as he feels), “Was I supposed to get some sort of notes about this?”

“You’re God, aren’t you?” says Sheila, making God feel much more like he was on a witness stand instead of a job interviewee’s chair.

“Is that a question?” asks God.

“Then you’re all-knowing, right?”

God knows exactly where this is going. He rolls his eyes. “There’s ‘all-knowing‘ and there’s “ALL-KNOWING“, know what I mean?” He hopes like hell the extra boom in his voice took a little of the wind from Sheila’s sails.

“So you don’t know my Tanta Louise or, at least, you don’t remember her, is that right?”

God studies his hands. They don’t feel very mighty right this second. His cuticles are looking rough. “What was that again your…”

“Tanta. Tanta Louise. She was my favorite aunt. She taught me how to live. But, smart as she is in some ways, she makes no sense in others. Like believing you gave her the cancer that nearly killed her.”

God squirms despite himself (flashes of lightning shoot this way and that). “Can we… talk about… you?”

She stares back, a little incredulous.

God presses on. “Things were different back when your beloved auntie was trying to figure things out. It’s true. People weren’t as broad-minded as they are now.”

“By ‘broad-minded’, you mean they don’t believe in you?”

God looks down. Stepped in it. “Now that door’s open,” he starts to tell himself–

“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” says Sheila. God raises a hand to object. “Don’t,” says Sheila crisply. Down goes God’s hand. “Do you honestly think if no one mentions atheism that no one will think it?”

“It’s a little more complicated than that.” God looks down. Clears his throat — this time holding back on the rumble. “Know what special dispensation is, right?” He knows she does. She’s Catholic. “I’m taking it,” says God. “Different time and place.” He catches Sheila’s eyes. Holds them. “I, uh — I think I might remember this aunt of yours and, yeah — I might have said something along those lines — but there was context!”

Sheila and those damned eyes.

“She needed an explanation.”

Did you give her the cancer?”

“What? No!” Suddenly God’s all knowing: “The office building she worked in was on a super fund site. Honestly, it wasn’t my fault. I’m sorry I said anything–“

“You couldn’t tell her the truth?”

“Nobody knew it then — Google it!” God sits back a little. Feels the first hint of breathing room. “Google it”, he chuckles to himself, “Man, that was genius.”

Again with those damned eyes.

“Are you all knowing or aren’t you?”

God’s been in this minefield. Doesn’t make it any easier. “Depends”.

“When my Tanta Louise asked you why she got cancer, did you tell her it was because of the building she worked in? No. You told her a lie — even though you knew the truth.”

God sits back in his metal folding chair. He tries to. Finally, he fixes Sheila with a stare of his own. “You’re very good, know that?”

“I’ve thought about it, yeah,” says Sheila. “I’m thinking about it now. What should I believe? What seems most true to me?”

“And that is why — if you’re looking for Truth, you can’t not go the monotheism route — sticking a pin in your Tanta Whatever — not literally of course!” Her eyes say “continue”. “Go with me here,” he says, kicking into full salesman mode, “Take it from a deity — all those other deities? They’re not deities. The don’t think they’re better than you, for one thing!”

He turns up his palms. Slowly realizes his faux pas. “What I meant was polytheism’s small because all its gods are small. You don’t want to believe in a small god, do you?”

“Why should I believe in any god?”

“First cause,” says God, throwing down the words like it ended the argument.

“Bull-shit”, says Sheila. “Where’d YOU come from then? Who created you?”

“Nothing did, don’t you get it?” says God. “I’m the first cause. The alpha, the omega, the beginning, the end, the peanut butter and the jelly.”

“I’m allergic to peanuts”

“Figures,” God starts to say, catching himself immediately. “What I meant was I know you’re allergic to peanuts because I know everything.”

“What’s on the other side of a black hole?”

God hesitates. “What’s–“

“On the other side of a black hole. You know what a black hole is, right?”

Pride a little wounded: “Yes, I know what a black hole is, I invented them, right?”

“If you invented them then you know what’s on the other side of one, right?”

“Well…” God stammers, “Some of these inventions of mine — they’re works in progress, know what I mean?”

“They ‘evolve’, you mean?”

“Exactly,” says God, not catching himself in time, “They evolve.”

To God’s surprise, Sheila smiles. “I’ve come to a decision,” she says, standing. God, feeling like he’s being led here, stands as well. “I’m not hiring you,” says Sheila.

Not the first time this has happened (especially not recently). God lets it roll off his shoulders. “You don’t have to decide anything today,” he says — having answered this objection a few kajillion times before.

“I don’t have to decide anything ever,” says Sheila. She sits back. Studies God. Starts to laugh — not at God, not at anything in particular. Finally, the laugh peters out. “Even if, some day, I decide to look you up,” says Sheila, “It wouldn’t be you that I’d be looking up. It’d be someone better. Something better — a better God, know what I mean? But that’s only if I felt like I needed to believe in a God to begin with.”

“Can I tell you how sorry I am that I lied to your auntie?”

“If I was going to invent a god,” Sheila says, indicating the door behind God, “I’d hope like hell I could invent a better god than you.” Sheila extends a hand. “Good luck in the future.”

God looks at her hand. He knows that she knows he isn’t going to take it. And just like that, he knows: he made her point again.

“Thanks for coming in.”

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.

Do Religious People Believe “IN” God Or That They ARE “God”? I Suspect It’s Mostly The Latter…

Monotheism is dangerous — far more dangerous than polytheism — and far, FAR more dangerous than atheism. Let’s be clear: there have been atheistic despots (Pol Pot comes to mind). But, atheistic as they may have been, it was never their atheism driving their heinous cruelty because atheism doesn’t work like theism does inside our minds. For starters, atheism is entirely undogmatic. There’s no institution to create rules for adherents to follow — the whole basis for dogma. Simply put, there’s no institution and certainly no institution telling atheists how to think in order to demonstrate how “religiously” atheistic they are. Dogma is like a suit of armor around the religionista, protecting their delicate sensibilities from the harsh cruelties of the real world. Religion only works if a follower is willing to suspend all critical thinking; they must accept without question the institution’s interpretation of the world and human purpose within it. And all that purpose is directed, the religious believe, by an actual being named Yahweh.

Or do they? If you asked the average religionista how they feel about Yahweh and they’d stare back vaguely. How do they feel about who now? That’s because most religious people haven’t actually read any of the texts they supposedly base their lives on. They certainly haven’t approached their spirituality with an ounce of curiosity. That’s a large clue as to what they’re thinking. Or not thinking as is the case. In their defense, a lot of people cling to their religion because it was introduced to them when they were kids. The fear buttons pushed then to set the God hook deeply stayed pushed. Even rational people can be intensely irrational given a certain subject matter particular to them.

And what of the deity — or, rather the idea of “the deity” — that set in their heads when the idea was introduced to them in childhood? Even kids (like mine) raised in an entirely non-religious household have to confront religion because American society has been so “religionized” by the religionistas among us. This morning, for instance, a unanimous (but narrowly focused) decision allows Catholic Family Services of Philadelphia to continue discriminating against LGBTQ couples in its adoption business. The God of the Religious Right knows what he likes but even more what he hates apparently.

How exactly, I wonder, do the religious arrive at their conclusion that God doesn’t want them adopting children needing love and a family to loving families just because those families aren’t “traditional”? I suspect they pulled such a thing from their asses. The Jewish Pentateuch took more than a thousand years to come together; it memorialized longstanding tribal mythologies and beliefs. But, even as they practiced their faith, Jews questioned their faith because acceptance of dogmatism just isn’t how Jews roll. In point of fact, Jews are more a culture than a religion. We may have begun life as a religion but fifteen hundred years of forced isolation in Europe forced Jews to invent a culture unto themselves. That’s one reason why Jewish culture endures even as more Jews become less religious. Irreligion is not a deal breaker. You don’t stop being Jewish just because you practice another faith. Ask the rest of the world. They’ll tell you: once a Jew, always a Jew.

The religious put on quite a show when they want to demonstrate their fealty to Yahweh. That’s because Yahweh — Creator of the Whole Universe and Everything In It” demands fealty, neurotic psychopath that he is. In Yahweh’s defense, he’s not a terribly original creation and the first Jews didn’t really make Yahweh their one and only god for a long, long time. He probably had reason to feel defensive. Whoever the original Abraham character was — the tribal chieftain who migrated his extended family from modern day Iraq (where he came from — so the book says) to modern-day Israel where he and his family co-existed with the Canaanites whose god El, these transplants from the East seem to have liked. They must have liked El because they embedded El’s name in so many places that endured even after the Canaanites were long gone: Beth-EL for instance or IsraEL.

What it all demonstrates is who invented whom. Yahweh didn’t invent anyone. The Hebrews — borrowing from the Canaanites — invented Yahweh a/k/a “God”.

Now, keep in mind, almost no one who claims to believe in God knows anything about this. If you told them, they’d shake their head in disapproval. They’d insist that they know God exists because they have a personal relationship with him (in fact, they’re quite sure this cosmic force is a “him”). I bet it’s not too far removed from the personal relationship they have with the person who stares back at them from the bathroom mirror. I bet, if we could be there in the room there with most of them, they wouldn’t give Yahweh or God or anyone not there in the room with them the time of day. Much more real to them — the face staring back from the mirror.

And much more real? The voice that speaks as they gaze at themselves. That, really, is the “voice of God”. For some people, that would be a profoundly discomfiting revelation. For the deeply religious, it’s the voice’s “familiarity” that appeals. The voice of God sounds good in their heads. It won’t matter to them how it plays in our heads.

In fact, it won’t matter to them if it doesn’t.

The 3 Words That Make Me An Atheist: “I Don’t Know”

“I have always been grateful to Hebrew School for making me the atheist I am today”. That’s how I sign on to “The Faitheism Project Podcast” that I do every week with my good friend the Reverend Randy Lovejoy. In fairness, I’m pretty sure I dropped from the womb an “unbeliever”. Hebrew School merely closed the deal. Back then, I hadn’t had time yet (or the intellectual capacity) to reason out exactly why theism didn’t add up for me. That’s not to say I didn’t feel awe as I gazed up at the cosmos. I felt tons of awe. And tons of curiosity. I just didn’t see Yahweh staring back with the answers.

My awe is no different from the awe a Christian feels as they contemplate the nature of God (their version in their head) or the the all knowing state of Bodhisattva a Buddhist might experience as they achieve nirvana. But that’s where our paths diverge — me and my faith-practicing friends. People of faith need to know what’s behind the awe (even if the explanation isn’t entirely satisfying or logical). Why does the universe exist in the first place? God knows. Whether he reveals that truth to them is a whole other question; that “knowledge” that God has the answer, that’s good enough for them. Not for me. I’m pretty clear about one essential fact: Yahweh did not invent humans, humans invented Yahweh. If you’re looking to Yawheh for real answers, you’re looking in the wrong place.

The scribes who first scratched out what eventually became “The Book Of Genesis” were memorializing more than a thousand years of accumulated mythology — all bent toward answering the question “Why are we here?” Unsatisfied by a polytheist answer, whoever the actual “Abraham” was (mostly likely, he was a tribal chieftain who migrated his tribe from modern day Iraq to Canaan, now modern day Israel), he also migrated his tribe away from the polytheistic gods of their past to a “new God” called Yahweh. But, even Yahweh wasn’t entirely original. The newly arrived monotheists must have liked a lot about the Canaanite god EL; they incorporated not just EL into Yahweh, but El into their identity. El’s presence remains in place names like “Beth EL” and “IsraEL”.

Even Yahweh says of himself that he used to be called El but, at long last, has gotten to show his true self.

Knowledge — “gnosis” — became extremely important in the monotheistic universe. Human beings weren’t allowed to have “ultimate knowledge”. That’s Eve’s original sin — wanting to know what Yahweh knew.

To know everything therefore, is to “be” Yahweh. To be a god.

Atheists aspire “to know”. Same goes for many agnostics. Their agnosticism hinges on the fact that they don’t and therefore won’t conclude definitively whether or not Yahweh (or any god) exists. The information I want is out there somewhere. Will I ever acquire it definitively? I don’t know. And that’s the bottom line. Until I do “know” what happened, I’ll have to accept that I don’t know. The question is — can I live with that? Can I live with not knowing definitively?

What preceded the Big Bang? I don’t know. I think string theory provides a more satisfying answer than “Yahweh preceded it”. At least string theory can rest on a foundation of math. Yahweh rests on a foundation of storytelling in the absence of hard data. If the first monotheist (be it Abraham who whoever) had had access to a telescope or a microscope — or the internet — would they have written Genesis the way they did? Would they have described an earth-centric universe all geared toward the creation of human beings? Of course not — they would have started mythologizing with what they already knew then used the mythologizing to explain what they, as yet, didn’t know. In the beginning, Yahweh might have been standing on the other side the singularity that started Life As We Know It — and Genesis might have opened by describing The Big Bang in remarkable, proto-second by proto-second detail.

The bottom line is how do any of us deal with uncertainty? Those with little tolerance turn to religion because they need to know. Religion says it WILL provide the answer. Science can only say “it might” provide an answer and the answer it provides today may not be good tomorrow because we’ve learned new information. That’s the best science can ever do. If you want certainty, science — ironically — is not for you.

When I say “science”, I mean a process of analytical, observation-based thinking as opposed to “revealed knowledge”. Back before Darwin, theology was considered “the Queen Of The Sciences” — for real. But, with Darwin came not just science but a “scientific method” of thinking that demanded all conclusions be based on actual data and not just “cos God said”. Forced to provide receipts, theology fled the building. Whereas the institutional church could have used the occasion to reinvest in Jesus and teach a spiritual “Do Unto Others” message (something they’d never really done before), instead (in America), the church doubled down on the ooga-booga. Rather than see the Bible as a bastion of good messages for good living, the institutional churches of America insisted that their sacred texts were the “divinely inspired word o’ God” and therefore even better than science. Unlike science, the church insisted (and still does) God does not need receipts.

What’s true inside a church stops being true outside it.

Not having a reason to be here imposed upon me by a bipolar deity doesn’t scare me. Hell, it liberates me! I can tolerate living in a DIY universe where the Big Questions are concerned. Hell, I half expect it to turn out that the the whole Universe is just a giant piece of IKEA furniture — and the nitwit putting it together misunderstood the instructions and flipped the main piece upside down; we’re moments away from him realizing he’s going to have to break the whole Universe down and start all over again. How “Noah”…

That’s just the Universe being ironic, right…?

If Christianity Isn’t In The “Do Unto Others” Business (It Isn’t!), What Business Is It In Exactly?

Outside of its “sales literature”, Christianity has zero use for “Do Unto Others”. Same goes for Jesus. Christianity uses Jesus the way McDonald’s uses Ronald. He’s a mascot, nothing more. The church is about as worried whether their actions would meet Jesus’s approval as McDonald’s is worried about Ronald’s. As the McDonald’s Corporation would remind you: Ronald is just a clown. The institutional church feels pretty much the same way about Jesus. “Do unto others” is just another part of the “Christianity Brand”. To its credit, the early Christian Church realized early on how important branding would be in building their new institution. Hey — they seem to have understood that “branding” was a thing to begin with. What’s the symbol for literally every church — for the Christian religion itself? A cross. Remember — prior to being taken over by the Christian church as the symbol representing itself, crosses were the Roman equivalent of an electric chair or a gas chamber or a guillotine. If the Romans had invented the guillotine before the French did (the idea for the device was proposed in 1788 by French physician and politician Joseph-Ignace Guillotin), Christians would all be walking around today with little guillotines around their necks.

Hmmmm… Christianity isn’t really worried about the guy ON the cross (crosses can have him or not have him — they mean the same thing; Jesus is an adornment on a cross)… that must mean that Christianity cares more about the cross itself. The Romans crucified people because the shape of the cross causes a person nailed to it to slowly, painfully, agonizingly asphyxiate — usually over several days. If they had found a circle or a square caused an equally painful kind of death? They probably would have used that instead. The point isn’t even the cross. It’s what the cross causes that Christianity is really messaging: death.

The first message (never mind the “first cause”) is “Jesus died”. Not “Jesus taught ‘Do unto others’,” Jesus died. That was the essential thing about Jesus to Paul The Apostle as he went about inventing Christianity. That’s a stone cold fact: Jesus had zero to do with the invention of Christianity. Paul had EVERYTHING to do with it. One could remove Jesus and every one of his teachings from everything most Christian churches call “Christianity” and you’d still have Christianity. That’s not a criticism. Hell — that’s Paul’s genius and Paul, most certainly, was a genius. The way we look at Paul has to be different from the way we look at Jesus because we KNOW Paul was 100% real; unlike Jesus, Paul left behind a written record of himself. The bulk of the New Testament is composed of Paul’s letters and epistles to the burgeoning Christian communities spreading across Asia Minor.

The fact that there WERE burgeoning Christian communities across Asia Minor was entirely because of Paul. Without Paul, those communities don’t exist. They never start. The idea for them — for what those communities are going to believe — originates in Paul and NOT in Jesus. Jesus — Joshua ben Joseph is how he would have thought of himself — was born, lived and died a Jew. He grew up steeped in the Jewish texts, Jewish traditions, Jewish mythologies and Jewish thinking. Key to that way of thinking is “Do unto others” or, as it’s expressed in the Mishna and Talmud, “Tikkun Olam”. It is every Jew’s obligation to make the world a better place for having been in it. One does not get a choice in the matter; it’s an unspoken commandment from God. Making the world a better place begins with treating everyone as YOU would wish to be treated aka “Do unto others”.

Jesus never thought of taking his message outside the Jewish world. Why would he? He wasn’t trying to invent Christians when he preached the Sermon On The Mount, he was trying to make Jews better Jews. Nothing Jesus did — let’s remember that the stories we have of Jesus were not even remotely eyewitness accounts; they were collated and edited and chosen as canonical by the Christian church’s early leaders who themselves were part of the invention process. Again — this is not a criticism, it’s merely an observation of the process by which Christianity came into the world. And it WAS a process that took CENTURIES to happen — and the texts they were using as part of that formative process themselves were the accumulation of as much as a MILLENNIUM of oral traditions finally written down.

After his “conversion on the road to Damascus” from Saul of Tarsus to Paul the Apostle (a thing we can assume DID happen because real person Paul wrote about it), Paul went to Jerusalem to try and sell the powerful vision in his head. The problem was, Paul — who’d never met Jesus — was trying to sell HIS version of Jesus to people (including Jesus’s FAMILY) who actually KNEW Jesus, who’d actually heard Jesus speak — who’d heard his message straight from his mouth. They rejected Paul and his version of Jesus out of hand. Their version of Jesus — the REAL JESUS (as much as we can point to a “real Jesus”) — more or less died with them. Not long afterward, the Romans destroyed the Second Temple and the Jewish presence in Palestine was mostly obliterated for almost two thousand years. Scattered to the diaspora, Jewish culture turned away from a physical temple to a more intimate, rabbinic approach where questioning God’s true intent so as to decipher a meaning was the goal.

Paul meanwhile took his version of Jesus to the Gentiles. Unlike the Jews who’d rejected him, the Gentiles didn’t know Jesus and didn’t know any of the Jewish mythology Jesus knew and based his teaching on. Also, the Gentiles didn’t know any of the messiah mythology from The Book Of Daniel or The Book Of Enoch. If Paul strayed from what was written and understood, none of the Gentiles were going to call Paul on it like the Jewish community would. That liberated Paul to both adulterate and “improve upon” the original with his own focus. To Paul, it was the fact that Jesus died and, in Paul’s telling of it, rose from the dead like a zombie.

Who tells us Paul rose from the dead? Was it Jesus? NO — it’s Paul. Paul is the only reporter the church relied upon to tell us who Jesus was. Our version of Jesus is Paul’s version of Jesus; not his family’s version or even Jesus’s version of Jesus. It’s all Paul’s version. And Paul — here’s the true heart of his genius — was selling the idea that if Jesus could rise from the dead and defeat death itself (and isn’t that what scares human beings most?) then so could someone who believed in Jesus (so long as the version of Jesus you believed in was Paul’s). THAT is what Paul invented; it’s what the institutional church Paul also was inventing took as its Big Sales Tool.

“Have you heard the good news” is how they put it — and it also was genius. Prior to the Jews and their personal, monotheistic tribal god Yahweh (the god we’ve come to call “God” though, really, god is Yahweh’s job description not his name), the polytheistic gods had a very different relationship with humans. Yahweh on the other hand was personally interested in humans since he, personally, created them. Yahweh has a lot of the Canaanite god “El” in him, Yahweh’s creators having been a lesser tribe in that larger tribe’s shadow. El’s presence is still felt in various place names: “Isra-EL” for example or “Beth EL”. Yahweh creates Adam in his own image. How sad for Yahweh that Adam let him down in the end (oh, right — that was all Eve’s fault).

Paul cleverly took the “mankind’s fall from grace” idea from Genesis and made that the whole reason Jesus died — no, HAD TO DIE. The whole point of Jesus’s existence, Paul told his followers, was to die as collateral for Eve’s “original sin”. Nowhere in Judaism is such a thing demanded. But it is in Christianity because Paul (and then the early church “fathers”) put it in the faith they were mythologizing on the fly.

Think about it: if Jesus, instead of being crucified, lives out his days teaching and preaching to fellow Jews and dies in his bed, a respected old man (though maybe not by the temple and its priests), then Paul never has a revelation about Jesus dying (that Jesus’s family thinks is hogwash) and Christianity never comes to be. Or, maybe Paul does have his revelation on the road to Damascus — except it’s NOT about Jesus dying and being resurrected — it’s about Jesus’s message: “Do unto others”. Instead of founding a church outside of Judaism, Paul, instead, would have become more Jewish.

He’d have become a better Jew than he was. More devout maybe. More thoughtful about what Yahweh said was important (Yahweh being a mercurial cat to begin with).

The early church needed compliance with its emerging mythology, not more discussion about it. That’s why they created a canonical testament — a New Testament that reimagined and reinvented the Old Testament by turning it away from everything Jesus thought to everything Paul thought. And Paul, don’t forget, had been soundly rejected by his own. Paul, as we know, took being spurned badly. We have no idea whether or not Jesus was actually crucified even. We have Paul’s account of it and the accounts — the four canonical gospels — whose stories lined up just enough to seem like a coherent narrative. Again: there are no contemporaneous accounts of anything Paul or the Gospel writers describe. All we have to go by is them — and the thing they were beginning to figure out and figure out how to sell: Christianity.

Jesus taught his followers that none of them needed a Temple or its priests. They, Jesus taught, were corrupt! Anyone and everyone could speak directly to Yahweh without a “middle man”. That’s how approachable Yahweh was. So, how come there’s a church speaking for Jesus (of all people)? It’s a total contradiction of a core teaching. Same goes for all the dogma required to justify any church’s existence. Churches do not, in fact, teach anything “Jesus” because their very existence would disturb Jesus to his toes were he to actually experience a “second coming” and return.

Not only would Jesus be disgusted by the religion that rose in his name, he’d be doubly disgusted by that religion’s anti-Semitism. Jesus never had an anti-Semitic thought because he was a Semite. He would find the church’s history repellant. He would be crushed by the number of his fellow Jews who the church-with-his-name-on-it murdered in cold blood just because they were Jews. He would be especially blown away by how that church-with-his-name-on-it turned “Do unto others” into “Do what we say”. There may not be a bigger contradiction in the whole history of contradictions.

But, that’s exactly what Christianity’s selling. In their defense, they are selling rubbish and magical thinking — that requires a lot of hard work especially in a world that replaced theology as the Queen of Sciences with actual science. Had Paul chosen to try and sell real Jesus, he probably would have failed. His version captivated the Gentile world. In time, Paul’s genius became the state religion of Europe. Think that’s what Jesus had in mind as he preached the Sermon On The Mount?

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.