Leaving the Fold

Leaving the Fold

Friday, 9 May 2014

Leaving the Fold

De-conversion- leaving the fold

De-converting from Christianity was not easy. It is one of the most difficult things one can do after being a follower for almost ten years. I was a Christian for the better part of ten years, even after the events that destroyed my trust in Christianity my faith remained by the tiniest  thread for a long time. In many cases, the person de-converting may have been a follower for a lot longer than ten years. The process starts due to some crisis of faith, at which point the doubt begins to set in, you can try to ignore it but eventually it may become as annoying as an itch you just cannot reach, or a warning beep on your computer that tries to tell you something is wrong and needs to be addressed. If you ignore it it won't go away, if you give it your attention then it grows. At this point, those experiencing a particularly serious crisis of faith will often find themselves beginning the process of de-converting from Christianity.

The period of de-conversion can last months or even years. Some people seemingly recover from it and return to Christianity because, much like a person’s home, it is a place of familiarity or they may think there is too little support to turn to elsewhere, and according to believers the repercussions of backsliding are undesirable (to say the least). De-conversion has much in common with the stages of grief. First, you deny it to yourself and others unwilling to reconcile the fact that you could be losing your faith in God. Some people will try extremely hard to ignore the possibility that they are losing their faith. Other people may find themselves assured that doubt is common among Christians and is nothing to worry about. Then you get angry, angry at the possibility that all you have been told by your pastors and other church leaders was a lie, you do not know whom to trust, and this may cause some personal investigation into the subject. Sometimes you even get angry with yourself for being doubtful and angry with your former fellow brethren, even those who have not done you any wrong. Eventually, you grieve the loss. Once your fellow brethren recognise your loss of faith, they may offer little help. This is not as much an issue of them being rude as it is that they see your loss of faith as a spiritual sickness. If they think they cannot cure it they often quietly slip away, as though fearing that this sickness is contagious. For many Christians, the idea that anyone could lose faith and God would allow this to happen can be a terrifying one. It is terrifying because it gives the most horrible impression that to God, even if you are a Christian you are expendable. In other words, to God you are a tool, an instrument of his will, which can be discarded without consequence. For other Christians, the idea of losing faith is unfathomable because they cannot compute why someone would do this as it goes against their perception of the world and the way they have been taught quite often from a young age. The idea that someone would not want a relationship with the loving, personal deity that they have been raised to believe in is mind-boggling. I remember thinking exactly that when I was a Christian. Christians quickly form a rationale, usually something about the de-converting person being evil or a pseudo-Christian, to explain why the person would do this. For those in Christian families, and who manage to lose their faith, this can be extremely difficult.

The strong sense of community that often comes with Christianity and the knowledge that you risk losing that sense of community makes the transition when de-converting even harder.  Much of Christianity’s power comes from its ability to appeal to our deepest emotions touching them when we are most vulnerable and by seemingly providing a voice of certainty in an uncertain world. Letting go is not easy nor is the fear of losing a part of yourself, and your identity, the fear of this can be overwhelming. Eventually, the often-long transition through to acceptance comes.

Christian beliefs on whether ex-christian’s exist or not

Here, I want to consolidate my various thoughts on Christianity, since the process of de-conversion has led to so many questions and doubts regarding Christianity and whether or not the Bible was truly divinely inspired. This will include commentary on parts of the Bible that are particularly problematic to Christian theology. A note of warning to any Christians, if you are happy to read ahead and are not easily offended and value insight into how others perceive your faith then by all means read on. If you are however easily offended or view any criticism or disagreement others might have with Christianity as an affront to your faith then I do not encourage you to read this. I welcome all refutations regarding my objections toward Christianity. My aim is not to de-convert Christians but to encourage them to allow their perception of the truth to be tested and to view it with an open mind and a healthy dose of scepticism while understanding how others perceive their faith. I do not believe that in the event that the Christian God is real, he would condemn his followers to an eternity of Hellfire for doubting him, asking questions or for reading this. Even the Bible says that Christians should provide an answer for what they believe in and should not shy away from doing so, one such verse is the following from 1 Peter 3:15:

"But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect," - 1 Peter 3:15

A lot of Christians could do well to remember and follow what this passage suggests but a large number do not. Many have an aversion to answering difficult theological questions to the point they will out-rightly ignore questions, some will dismiss them often with a pre-rehearsed answers while others consider them nonsensical even if they aren't and will just about mock the asker (sometimes they do mock the asker, in direct contradiction of the above passage). Having experienced all the above I found my personal investigations frequently frustrating. Some Christians I don't blame for fearing asking questions, or for not answering them. Such fear is understandable if you think the doubt it causes will lead to God condemning you to eternity in a lake of fire.

Often those who say ex-christians don't exist are the same people who say atheists really actually believe in God but are just in denial about it. I find this opinion both discriminating and ironically similar to the position they accuse atheists of having, which is; turning a blind eye to the truth. They justify this by the writings of the New Testament including those by Paul, John and surprisingly to a lesser extent those that they believe to be of Jesus Christ himself. These references include the following two passages:

19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.”
  • 1 John 2:19
“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.”
- Hebrews 6:4-8

n.b. Authorship of Hebrews is disputed. The style of writing is not identical to Paul’s letters; therefore, he is not widely regarded by scholars to be the writer.

The second reference, while not denying the existence of ex-Christians in contrast to the first reference is clearly far less than optimistic about their future prospects and many Christians interpret the ending as an allusion to Hell. I believe ex-christian’s do exist and that they are not pseudo-Christians as some call them otherwise de-converting would not be such a difficult process.

On the Apostle Paul

While Jesus at times appears more welcoming and tolerant of sinners, even to the objection of his disciples and others with him, Paul on a few occasions does not share the same attitude. It seems many Christians pay more attention to the words of Paul and the words of the other epistles sometimes than they do of those in the gospels, which they believe to be the words of Christ. Of course, many would argue Paul and the other authors were writing through the influence of the Holy Spirit and therefore their words are the words of Jesus. In Paul’s case at least, this does not explain his intolerance for both women and non-believers, including Jews. It does seems odd that given the New Testament, and Old Testament for that matter, is the Word of God, there have been an awful lot of people (like Paul) doing the talking and still to this today there a lot of people doing the talking.

Paul's intolerance for non-believers is shown by his belief that everyone knows whom Christ is in their hearts even if they have never been told a thing about him before. He also implies that non-Christians are incapable of doing anything that is not evil, which is far from correct. Even the most moral of Christians forced to go without any creature comforts or food, sleep or water for an extended period of time would be tempted to forgo their sense of morality and resort to desperate measures to ensure their own survival. Desperation can make the line between right and wrong seem a lot thinner.

 Paul’s attitude towards the Jews also suggests he is not terribly fond of them.Other comments are also unrealistic such as when he says man has tamed every creature on Earth. It might have been more correct if he suggested controlled to some small extent, or said they had been affected by humans which is most certainly correct (though not nearly as much at the time of writing).  Some of Paul’s attitudes may be explained in that he was writing to a specific audience in his letters and that the intended audience was only meant to be those to whom the letters were addressed. Despite this, Christians still seem to think that Paul was writing to future believers such as themselves, seeing a meaning in the pages that seem to apply to them when this may not be the case. There is also the odd situation where the devil seems to have enough power to prevent Paul from doing what he wants, yet if God is on Paul’s side and the devil’s power is obsolete by comparison to God’s one may wonder how Satan was able to achieve this. Unless God wanted it that way (from 1 Thessalonians), which does not make it sound like God, is entirely on Paul’s side.

Paul’s displeasure at the Jews not liking him preaching in their synagogues also seems strange because, if his writings are to be believed, Paul essentially tells them in their own sacred site (not a brilliant idea to start with) that their beliefs are no longer the correct ones. In other words, they are no longer exclusively God’s chosen people and the Law of Moses is no longer applicable to them which probably would have sounded decidedly sacrilegious to the average Jew. To top it off, as if suggesting they were no longer God’s chosen people was not enough to cause significant offence, Paul also suggested that the gentiles, whom the Israelite’s were not particularly fond of, had found favour over them in God’s eyes. As if this was not insulting enough for the average Israelite, Paul also says he is a Roman citizen and this probably did not help. It should be no surprise that Paul might have become very unpopular so quickly with the Jews, even though this part of his teachings may have sounded great to a gentile, to the Jews this would have been highly insulting. The idea of the Israelite’s not being God’s chosen people even goes against Jewish interpretations of Old Testament prophecy in which the nations would recognise and revere Israel as God’s chosen nation. It seems unsurprising that this rather brazen move would have gotten some Israelite’s extremely upset especially since their beliefs are such a core part of who they are. Therefore, with that it mind, it is easy to be less than sympathetic to Paul’s displeasure at being persecuted if you consider how insulting Paul’s words would have been to the Jews and that’s without considering the fact he said it in their own place of worship. It’s kind of like thinking of the most insulting things you can say to someone, saying it to them, and complaining that they didn’t take what you said very well. Clearly, Paul was not a diplomatic evangelist. that said, evangelism has a habit of not being diplomatic. Especially when Hell is mentioned. 

This lack of diplomacy and lack of respect for other people’s beliefs is what so often results in evangelists and missionaries being persecuted (even when it was the actions of other Christians, trying to faithfully fulfil the Great Commission, that lead to their persecution). A better example of where this occurs is when tourists may visit a country where their nationality is not particularly popular and they are harassed because of it even if the tourist had nothing to do with whatever caused people from their nation to be unpopular. Western tourists may be the subject of this in many countries where being western and having lots of money are often (but not always) considered synonymous, some unscrupulous individuals will go to great lengths to make a profit based on that idea.

Does the Holy Spirit Allow Christians to ‘Correctly’ Interpret the Bible?

Christians believe God or Jesus’ Holy Spirit allows them to understand the Bible. If the spirit of Christ was allowing Christians to understand the Bible, this does not explain why it leads Christians to many different interpretations of the Bible instead of just one consistent interpretation. The idea that the Holy Spirit allows Christians to thoroughly understand the Bible does not explain why he, or it, has not told people who some of the author were. For example we are not sure who wrote Hebrews or if the book of Peter was written by the same Peter who travelled with Jesus in the gospels. Nor does the idea that a divine entity interprets the Bible for Christians explain the need for theology degrees. The apostles after all did not have this luxury and nor have most Christians who have ever lived. Some rebukes against atheist criticism have included that the critic did not have a theology degree or were not a Bible scholar and, therefore, their opinion of the Bible was not valid. This argument, however, is thankfully not that common because, not many Christians have the luxury of getting a degree in theology. One could presume that if they had the Holy Spirit they would not need a theology degree to understand either what the spirit was saying or what the book was saying. In fact, suggesting that only a select group of people can interpret a book means that all outside criticisms and analyses can be ignored regardless of their reasoning and suggests that God is not a believer in equality. It seems strange that God would also only help Christians to believe and understand him when they already believe, so they are not the ones who need help believing in him. This view is supported at least once in the gospels where Jesus says he came to heal the sick not the healed that do not need a physician (Mark, 2:17).

If God wanted to reach everyone why would he make it so his book could only be correctly interpreted by those who were saved, not those who need saving. If you are writing a scientific article and you wanted to sell your idea to the general public as your target audience who, presumably, would have a limited knowledge of the subject you are writing about, would you fill the article with scientific jargon, data, figures and words that to the average person would find very difficult to understand? Especially if only those with a well-grounded knowledge of the content would understand what you were talking about? Probably not, they might not read past the title or the abstract if you are lucky. It seems odd that if God was writing with the intention to reach all of humanity (writing through the authors as commonly suggested) that he would make it only interpretable by a select few i.e. those who are already converted. It gets worse when some theologians suggest (or imply) that not even the Jews can correctly interpret their own scriptures, especially when a theologian says that there are hundreds of references to Jesus within the Old Testament making me wonder how the Jews could possibly have missed it. Implying that they have been incorrectly interpreting their own sacred text, something many Jews dedicate their life or childhood to and have done so for many years, means they would be understandably offended. Although Paul discovered this he did not seem to appreciate why the Israelites might be upset.

When it comes to interpretations not even Christians have a universal consensus on which one is correct. Nowadays, instead being a unified religion Christianity has many denominations all claiming they have the correct interpretation of the Bible. The differences in opinion between some denominations are sometimes minor, but this is far from the case for many of them. Even Peter and Paul seemed to disagree on doctrine despite both having the same spirit helping them, leading to a schism in their teachings. Nowadays, differences of opinion regarding doctrine and theology can go as far as openly opposing the opinions of other denominations in a less than loving manner. There are even some churches that will go so far as to suggest other denominations they don’t agree with will not go to heaven, and even openly suggest that members of another denomination will go to hell (which is not their call anyway). This threatens to undermine the value Christianity places on community if it ends up with this kind of in-fighting.

I also take issue with the fact that sometimes spirit filled theologians, answer a question regarding something in the Bible with ‘I do not know.’ While I appreciate the honesty in such a statement, I find it puzzling that somebody with the Holy Spirit would say this. An example was when a pastor was asked what happened to the dead who rose from their graves following Jesus’ death in Matthew’s gospel and why did nobody seem to notice them despite the fact this was rather obviously not an everyday occurrence (Matthew 27:52).

According to contemporary evangelical churches the Holy Spirit tells believers what to say in answer to a question or when they are evangelising so they need not worry about being nervous or unsure of what to say. I am sure the Holy Spirit would not answer a question with ‘I do not know’, unless I am incorrect in assuming it is omniscient.  Of course if asked to predict future events like lottery numbers, I could understand why the spirit might answer with ‘I do not know’. Stranger still is the small number of Christians who seem to believe that it has given them insight into the exact date the world will end, so far they have not had that much success or been very popular with fellow believers as this idea is not considered Biblical by most theologians since not even Jesus is supposed to know when the world will end. There is of course the possibility that the popular idea that the Holy Spirit uses Christians as its mouthpiece is not correct, but that is one of the main interpretations of what the spirit does these days.

In addition to the above points, Jesus is far less than optimistic about the future prospects of all non-believers, as suggested in rather black and white mentality within the following verse:

“He who is not with us is against us…” [Matthew 12:30
(N.b. When it comes to black and white mentality, Paul is far worse).

This seems to support the idea that non-believers future prospects are bleak. Upon reading verses such as Matthew 12:30, many Christians agree that an unpleasant fate awaits non-believers. Although as with any verse, there are many interpretations and it is up to the reader’s discretion to decide which they will believe or to make their own. The common interpretation, by Christians not others, is that it means all non-believers are damned to hell, provided they do not convert. This is an absolute, which does not provide any opportunity for pacifists including renowned pacifists including Mahatma Gandhi who is a frequently cited example, or others who have done very little to deem them worthy of eternal punishment. It is unfair to believe that such people are against God simply because either they were not Christian by the circumstances of their birth and upbringing (anything that could result in them knowing nothing about Christianity such as a child being born to a Hindu family in a remote village) or they did not agree with all of the Christian doctrine (such as Hell) or they left after a bad experience, or in some cases including mine, multiple bad experiences. The entire concept of convert, or go to hell, is an ultimatum that does not support the concept of free will. Hell is not unique to Christianity either but it is a highly effective means by which to create fear in both devotees and others and prevent most people from even considering backing out. Neither is the judging of the dead by their deeds good and bad a concept unique to the Abrahamic religions as many religions, many of them not monotheistic, feature a deity who fulfils this role.

Picking random Bible verses can lead to false conclusions as is often pointed out, however, neither Christians nor atheists are guiltless of cherry picking as it is an easy thing to do. There are some Christian groups who have expressed their hatred for a group of sinners based on one or two verses written in the gospels or Paul’s letters, ironically these groups fail to realise that they are considered sinners themselves, even by Paul to his credit though I disagree with much of what he says. Despite Christian complaints about atheists cherry picking, it is a very common tactic in evangelism, usually starting with verses pertaining to, or thought to pertain to salvation through Jesus and God’s love for humanity. It is never mentioned that according to Christianity that love extends solely to Christians and potential converts, the other 70% or more of humanity might as well be wearing red shirts (kudos to anyone who gets that joke, for those who don't it originates from the sci-fi franchise Star Trek and refers to any character who is only briefly seen on-screen and whose sole purpose is to be killed by one of the main villains of the episode and is then promptly forgotten and replaced). For Christians who don’t read the Bible except in church the Bible is like one of those software agreements or Terms & Conditions statement that pop up on your computer screen whenever you install a program. Instead of reading the whole thing, which I doubt many Christians actually do, they scroll to the bottom and click ‘I agree’.

I will not go into detail on why I de-converted here, partly because it was extremely difficult and because I do not wish to disrespect the privacy of those involved. It can probably be best summarised in the fact that while pastors frequently tell their church to expect persecution from non-Christians, and the Bible encourages this, they never warn you that you might be persecuted by Christians and nor are you led to expect it.

Related Articles

Deconversion in Stages by Paul M. Harrison

Five Stages of Grief by Respectful Atheist

Phases of Deconversion by Hammurabi

The stages of grief over my loss of faith by the Chaplain

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Questions on Christianity Part 3: Does God discipline his followers?

Questions on Christianity Part 3: Does God discipline his followers?

This is the final part of this blog. Often I have seen in my experience as a Christian, though I am not one now, different perspectives on whether God actually disciplines his followers. At the moment, it would appear he does not because there are a lot of Christians that get away with doing the wrong thing and harm the reputation of the one they supposedly represent. Some Christians say God will punish these people, when they are dead. I am not sure why this is even considered a good rebuttal. It’s kind of like how God allows the devil to indirectly lead thousands to hell and he will only judge the devil after the damage has been done at the end of time. How does this help the people who are turned away from God because of hypocrisy to wait and let God sort it out once they are dead. I am quite sure if someone was going around murdering people nobody would say ‘let’s wait until he dies to do something’, yet apparently that is similar to what God does because the people turned away end up in Hell (I could be wrong but this is how many theologians I have met and heard seem to think it goes) When it comes to disciplining Christian’s for doing the wrong thing, does God discipline Christians doing the wrong thing? It would appear not. One pastor I have heard have stated that such people who committed wrongs while claiming to be followers were judged because they died, this is obviously not a good explanation because that fate awaits everyone, including Christians (I discussed earlier why the punishment for sin is not death since Christians also share this fate).

Although many would disagree and say that Jesus died so that they would not have to be disciplined, or rather punished eternally, I still think it would make much more sense if it said the New Testament that Christians would be disciplined for doing the wrong thing. This would most certainly discourage hypocrisy, because suggesting that Christians don’t have to worry about punishment or discipline, because someone else received it (i.e. Jesus), sets a sort of precedent whereupon some people believe they can do what they like and not expect to be disciplined. If Christian’s were still punished for doing the wrong thing and the only difference was they didn’t face eternal punishment, this would make more sense. This would most certainly be a remedy for the hypocrisy present in the Christian church. Of course saying that Christians still have to worry about discipline would probably be a poor method of evangelism. An assurance that they will not be punished seems more likely to encourage someone to do the wrong thing than not to do it. Even if someone who is being charged for a crime apologises and acknowledges they've done the wrong, that doesn't mean they get off though they are more likely to receive a lighter sentence. The problem for Christianity is that some people believe that because Jesus was punished for the crimes they committed, they no longer fear punishment or getting disciplined and this makes them think they can get away with doing the wrong thing.

If God treats us all as equals, then it would make more sense for Christians and non-Christians to have their actions treated, and where necessary, disciplined in the same manner so that if they both commit the same crime one was not treated more favourably over the other. There are, unfortunately, some churches that believe that God does punish non-believers for their sins in this life despite not showing much interest in disobedient Christians that wilfully hurt Christianity’s reputation. There are even some churches who believe that some disasters, man-made or natural are the result of God being angry at non-believers for one reason or another. Thankfully, they do not account for the majority of believers because these same disasters tend to not discriminate between religions, hence Christians suffer just as much as anyone else in this regards.

In conclusion, to summarise my questions, which I’m sure some reading may have been hoping I would do, my main question in regards to Christianity is the same one that every inquisitive child asks their parents.. Why? Simply typing in such questions in google will usually result in a plethora of results with the most common appearing in google instant. Some of them are stupid, as with anything on google, but many are quite valid.

Monday, 5 May 2014

General Questions on Christianity Part 2: Miracle Stories & Prayer Continued

Why I am sceptical of miracle stories

In a case of very bad timing, I read an article about a gunman at a McDonald’s in Texas whose gun jammed when he went to open fire on someone, and as suggested by several Christian news articles this was because of a miracle that occurred as a result of a woman who had been praying. It was badly timed because I had just heard about a recent shooting massacre on the TV so I was very unimpressed when I happened upon this. In the McDonald’s story God made the gunman’s weapon jam when he (the gunman) went to shoot the woman praying and her family. The guy walked outside, his gun apparently worked, and he walked back in, the gun no longer working. The guy could have been acting in order to frighten people and stuffed his gun up, walked outside fixed it and fired, then walked back in having stuffed the gun up again all to make people afraid. He may have intended to intimidate, not kill, or less likely he did not know how to use or maintain a gun (unlike in Hollywood movies, they do not work well if not maintained which is probably a good thing). Yet Christians were praising the story. What had those people done wrong who had been killed in other incidences that only one mother had done right (including the massacre I had just heard about)? Had this one woman who had her prayer answered, out of the no doubt many such prayers that had been said that day, been the lucky and won the draw, in that her prayer happened to be randomly selected to be answered then, rather like getting the lottery (which might seem absurd). It seems unlikely that none of the other people who had died in shootings in that past year, or indeed the last century, or on the same day as this story even had been praying for themselves or others to be spared. If God was not willing to act in any of those other shootings, why did he randomly decide to act on a single occasion only? If he was going to answer that woman’s prayer why had not he answered the prayers of others as well and not just hers? God apparently more often intervenes in more mundane prayers, or prayers that if answered would make it look like he is playing favouritism when a non-believer may have been just as deserving of what the believer receives, if not even more deserving.

People with lots of Christian friends on their Facebook will probably be quite familiar with prayer requests, prayer for help with school, uni, college, personal goals and health concerns relating either to the poster or someone the poster knows. The very common responses of “praying” or “done” seem a bit unnecessary for one thing. Prayers for the sick are quite common but prayer requests are quite rigged due to the fact that God will be praised regardless of the outcome. if the person gets better, God will be praised (often they forget about saying thank you to the people actually doing the hard work, makes me feel sorry for the average doctor or nurse). If the sick person gets worse, it’s a faith issue, either on part of the patient or those praying. If the worst should come to pass then there is a general acceptance (at least amongst Christian circles) that the person has gone to a better place and God is praised for allowing the person in their lives. Praying puts Christians at risk of forgetting who the ones doing all the hard work of making the ill person better are, including hospital staff, paramedics, first aid officers where applicable, the patients family and often the patient themselves. Had most of these people not been involved, as can and does happen especially when health care is limited or unavailable (such as in third world countries) then the prognosis of the sick individual would likely been much poorer, regardless of the number of prayers made. If God does decide to heal people after getting a headache from so many people praying at once (which if he was, or is real, probably happens on Sundays), then this doesn’t explain why Christian’s go to a hospital or seek medical care at all. In fact there are some Christian groups in the US that shun the idea of seeking medical assistance for a serious illness because they believe that prayer makes it unnecessary, they are however a very small minority and rather controversial in their region.

- As I have made evident previously, I have an enormous problem with Christianity’s stance on suffering when God will apparently, at random, intervene if the person happens to be praying but not everyone who prays is always so fortunate. Anyone who does not pray is less likely to be lucky. The fact that he intervened once goes against all the arguments suggesting that God cannot intervene in human suffering because something is stopping him, or he cannot intervene without breaching free will. If he can stop a gun from firing, what’s stopping him from intervening on other occasions to? Why when a person is wrongly accused of a crime (even by their own church), can God not intervene and say the person is not guilty of the crime they are being accused of (or give the pastor some kind of divine revelation of that, like some pastors claim they get on other occasions). If he did answer the prayer of the woman in the above story, that would appear to suggest he is playing favourites and favoured her prayers above anyone who was not quite so lucky (and there have been a lot of cases of that including the other story mentioned). I could accept the idea that God can not intervene at all for some reason unbeknownst to us a lot more than I could accept the idea of him intervening at highly random and highly irregular intervals. It does seem that Christians are more likely to be optimistic about events and attribute good circumstances to God even if he more than likely had nothing to do with them. Another story which also only helped make me sceptical about miracles was from a Christian who proclaimed God got them into a course they had not got the marks for at university, suggesting God had favoured a Christian above anyone who had tried just as hard or even harder than that individual to get into that course. These are not the only times Christians accidentally make it sound like God plays favourites to the total disregard of the feelings or well being of non-believers or even sometimes other believers. I am sure making God sound like he likes to play favourites with complete disregard for non-believers is usually done by accident. However, it does not give anyone who is not a Christian and encounters this sort of attitude a very good picture of God or Christianity, nor does it remotely help people who a struggling in their faith. If anything it is more likely to make people who are struggling in their faith confused and angry resulting in their de-conversion. Another example of this was a man who praised God for saving his house from a bushfire after praying it would be saved, sadly most of the other houses in his street were not so fortunate. It was selfish prayer really, because it showed little concern for his neighbours property and a total ingratitude to the real saviours of his home, the people fighting the fire. That has to suck a little, you save someones house from a fire and instead of saying thanks they praise God. To a degree, in reality whether or not a house survives a large bushfire is a matter of luck and the ability of the firefighters to protect the property.

At times, God also seems to have an incredibly skewed priority when answering mundane prayers that would not seem to need as much priority as say someone whose life was in danger, like finding someone a car space while someone else who is praying is dying or suffering some sort of abuse. To be fair, many of these stories were targeted at a Christian audience and not intended to be said within earshot a non-Christian or somebody struggling with their faith (which just made the struggling bit worse). This happens to with Christians trying to justify suffering loss or suffering as part of God’s plan. This frequently not only makes God sound like a jerk who seeks his own wants above peoples needs, but it is also often a common and poorly timed mistake made by Christians as non-believers who have lost someone close to them recently are likely to find such justifications offencive or insensitive. This can especially be the case when the justification is poorly worded and despite being meant in comfort it is going to sound extremely cold to the person suffering i.e. God took someone away because he needed them, cold comfort for their loved ones or family.

Several incidents, which were ongoing for some time, opened my eyes to the large amount of hypocrisy present in the church. While many try to counter the issue of hypocrisy by trying to set an example, I still realised there were many two-faced Christians. Despite their increasing numbers, God seemed to be turning a blind eye. He was either unable to pull them into line or just did not care. It seemed odd that God was doing nothing to stop this hypocrisy in his church despite the damage they were doing to his name and the name of Christianity. Not does this give him a bad name, it also gives Christian’s trying to do the right thing a bad name and results in them being persecuted more. God’s lack of intervention to stop the growing incidences of hypocrisy in the church convinced me he either does not care, or the Christian deity does not exist.
This seems to encourage the psychological persecution complex, which is not helped by several verses suggesting Christians will be blessed for the persecution they face. This leads to many Christians feeling that the whole planet has it in for them; the bible encourages this idea. When bearing an open mind it is possible to realize Christianity is not the only religion where persecution is the problem. A couple of verses by Paul even seems to make it sound like non-believers like nothing better than to go Christian hunting over anything else, that or Paul the Apostle seemed to think that all non-Christians behave as he did before the eventful trip on the road to Damascus. Although Christian’s are quick to point out Paul was persecuted, as I mentioned in my first few posts, Paul brought this on himself. The reason Paul brought this on himself is he decided to go into Jewish synagogues and tell them basically that they were no longer exclusively God’s chosen people, not to mention he was a Roman citizen according to the text. It’s about as polite as someone going into a mosque and call a major prophet a false prophet loudly and interrupting the normal day-to-day activities of the devotees in the mosque in doing so. Christian’s often do not like it when people tell them their own religion is wrong, some more than others, yet for some reason many evangelists have no no problem stating when they think another persons religion is incorrect and don’t realise why the other person might not be pleased.

The Jews went through some of the most horrible examples of persecution, sadly in the past this has been encouraged by the church of the time, and they were later ignored by many Christian’s during WW II as nobody wanted anything to do with them, it was only later that the extent of this persecution became apparent to all. There are numerous incidences where people of religions other than Christianity have been persecuted, not always because of their religion either as the persecution has sometimes been motivated by other causes (e.g. racial or political).

Christian newspapers in particular annoy me. Quite frequently they highlight the suffering of Christians while ignoring the fact that they are not the only group in the mentioned article who are suffering and sometimes they deliberately omit when another group is being persecuted as well as Christians (or they will exclude all other groups except those their audience is likely to be sympathetic towards). That or they will highlight when a Christian does something good but fail to mention any other group who also do the same thing. They also seem to enjoy propaganda as well, although I won’t go into great detail due to the controversial nature of it, one example includes an incident in the middle-east, one of sadly many, in which some Christian's were killed in a bomb blast. Christian media reports failed to mention any of the victims that were not Christian and then proceeded to make it look like an attack on Christianity.

A major issue with Christianity in countries within and around central Asia is that it is often synonymous with western culture. Many Christians would not agree with this, and I do not agree with it either but the fact is many people in Central Asia associate white, Caucasian people with Christianity and think Christianity= Western culture. Considering the disdain some places have for western civilisation, this is not a good thing resulting in persecution. Some groups have also not forgotten their disdain for mistreatment suffered at the hands of powers such as the British Empire despite the span of time that has since passed, further fuelling this prejudice. It also does not help that Christians are taught that it is their ultimate mission that all must be converted to stop them from going to Hell, because although it may sound harsh, this results in Christians getting themselves into situations that result in them getting persecuted because they either say that to non-believers or believe it is their God-given responsibility to prevent people from going to Hell (and I have mentioned previously the enormity of this particular responsibility). Going to another country and telling people their religious beliefs are wrong and they must convert to Christianity, is not only a contradiction of the idea of free-will, but it is also understandably offencive which unsurprisingly causes some people to retaliate and not everyone deals well with such  an offence without resorting to violence.

Despite its prominence in the New Testament there are little to no records pertaining to the persecution of the first apostles or of them being a general nuisance as far as the Romans were concerned to the scale described, certainly nothing that would explain Saul (later Paul’s) apparent and bizarre zeal for hunting Christians. Christianity did not appear to start getting a lot of attention by the Roman Empire until later particularly around the reign of Nero from where well-known images such as Christians being used to feed lions in front of hundreds of Roman spectators comes from.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

General Questions on Christianity Part 1: Worship, Commandments & Miracles

General Questions on Christianity Part 1: Worship, Commandments & Miracles

God, humility and worship

It is claimed by some Christians that God is humble while this seems true of Christ there is a problem with this. If God was humble, he would not require nor want worship. He most definitely would not care whether he is or is not worshiped nor would he require it and send those who refuse to do so to Hell. He would not care for the amount of worship that has become trendy in contemporary churches and would probably find it trying especially when it can be so over the top. He would probably rather those worshiping did something more productive with their time, like help others (some do). The New Testament even says that 'faith without action is dead'. Prayer can also be majorly over the top and at times mantra like. In church settings, this is often doubled with dramatic emotional music to set the appropriate mood amongst those praying. I am being slightly biased here, I was an Anglican for around half the time I was a Christian before I moved from my hometown. Anglicans are somewhat more strict in how they worship or praye and are far more subtle than contemporary pentecostal churches In saying that God would not want worship I am not suggesting t that God would not want respect, he would probably want it in the same way a parent desires it from their children. Most people do not flatter and praise their parents and not many if any make up songs about them, most people’s parents would be suspicious of constant flattery or praise by their child like the kind often given to God and suspect they wanted something. In fact most, if not all, parents probably would not want the amount of flattery or worship from their children that God demands from his people. Why does God need to frequently be reminded that he is God or that he's good? He knows that, he doesn't need us to tell him that, a humble person does not require that sort of thing and if God does need it he is very insecure.

Sadly many evangelists are not the epitome of humility, there are quite a few especially among the more extremely charismatic happy-clapper variety that are anything but humble. I would rather face God knowing I was totally wrong about him and being humble about it than boasting about all the things I did in his name which seems to be what some evangelists think they will get to do in the afterlife. This is not the kind of attitude that Jesus suggests is pleasing to him as suggested by the following parable:

“9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

- Luke 18:9-14

While Christian’s say God is humble and values humility there are some verses that would suggest otherwise, including the following:

“I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. “
- Ezekiel 36:23 (note that the speaker in this particular passage is indicated to be God, not someone praising God).

“But cursed be the swindler who has a male in his flock and vows it, but sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord, for I am a great King,” says the LORD of hosts, “and My name is feared among the nations.”
- Malachi 1:14

Whether or not God wants humility from people is less difficult to interpret, given the number of people who get killed for not being humble enough (including showing a lack of humility towards a prophet).

“And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you “ - Deuteronomy 8:2-3

“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
- 2 Chronicles 7:14

“Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes…”
- Genesis 18:27

The dramatic prayer and worship often combined with a mellow piano or string motif/composition have a bizarre effect on the human mind. It is of course no secret that people can be drawn in my dramatic music or music in general as this is a regular technique used in advertising, movies and media news broadcasts (sometimes) as well as TV shows and video games (the latter sometimes achieved poorly). It is also no secret that music in a communal setting such as a church can induce a trance like state in people coupled with ecstatic movements, cries and dancing, in a way it forms a bond between those in the trance which is why communal music and dancing is so popular. Testimonies likewise, a major part of Christianity, seeks a similar effect by encouraging a person to make a preferably emotional and inspirational story about their journey to the faith. From the perspective of a believer some testimonies to seem amazing, but from the outside many seem to show Christianity's ability to play on our insecurities and, as mentioned previously, provide a voice of certainty where there is none, thanks mostly to the community it sometimes but not always upholds.

Any large gathering of people amassing under a cause can produce a vibrant atmosphere, some may attribute this to God but a Hindu attending a large festival will feel the same thing, and Hindu festivals are huge, the largest attracting 20-30 million people over a period of two months, or around 500, 000 people a day. People doing meditation, yoga or seeking some other spiritual endeavour in a group, including Buddhists and Hindus for whom this is a way of life may also feel a similar atmosphere yet for them it is not attributable to the Christian deity.

On the subject of testimonies, there is a less kind side to them. It is an expectation amongst many Christians that as a member of their group you will be able to provide an inspiring and encouraging testimony, if you fail to do so then they may be less amused. Sometimes, hesitant members can be forced to provide a testimony they do not wish to give leading to considerable embarrassment unless they somehow excuse themselves. Forcing someone to divulge details of a story they do not wish to tell, can be interpreted as bullying by some. A similar scenario I experienced  led me to realize my testimony no longer made sense, despite being told previously by multiple believers that the miraculous events (or not so miraculous by this stage) that led to my conversion were definitely a sign of God's hand in my life. Following that, the transition to agnostic was well underway.

Following the 10 Commandments

Many Christians still believe that the 10 commandments should be followed despite varying opinions on the idea that Jesus fulfilled the Law of Moses so that it no longer had to be followed because the rules within them especially found in Leviticus were extremely difficult to follow. Some evangelicals will try to convince other people that they are sinners and therefore must repent since they cannot follow at least one or more of the laws. Most of the 10 commandments even given a literal interpretation I have no problem with, except two.

Honour your parents
The command that one must honour their parents is a total pet hate of mine. Sure, in context it works well since to the Israelites, family was extremely important, and in an ideal world, it should work still. However, there is a commonly accepted mentality within some church that a person, who does not honour their parents because they were either mistreated, or abused, goes to hell. Undoubtedly, anyone in this situation would not say such a thing and would probably be highly offended. The commandment works well for a functional, healthy family it does not work well for a family that is not very functional because the parents are either tear each other apart, figuratively speaking, or not respecting the child as they should. In other words, this applies to families that love each other, or at least the parents love each other and love their children, not families that do not show this, it should by all means but it sadly does not. Nor do I think it is appropriate to deliberately keep reminding a child that they will go to hell if they are not obedient to the point the child develops a very unhealthy fear of doing anything wrong (I don’t think threatening a child or teaching hell to them is right under any circumstances).

Do not Lie

In itself this is not a bad commandment but some interpretations go so far as to suggest all lies are a sin even if they are done with good intention (however rarely) such as if someone is protecting another person who is being wrongfully persecuted and lies about their whereabouts to keep them from harm. To suggest that this is a sin and a condemnable offense as far as the church or God is concerned absurd. If a Christian was fleeing persecution and asked someone to lie about their whereabouts to protect them, I’m sure they would not be complaining about breaking this particular commandment.

Do not murder

While I most certainly agree with this verse, some considerable liberties are taken with interpretations of this verse. It is not considered murder when God condones genocide and killing in the Old Testament or commits it himself. If he had not wanted the Israelite’s to break this commandment then it makes no sense that he would order them to kill some of their neighbors (in striking contrast to Jesus’ attitudes on love thy neighbour). It also makes no sense that God rarely reprimands his followers for killing people without his consent such as when Elisha kills the 42 boys, Elisha is not told off or told his actions were a little extreme despite the fact that God would have had full knowledge of Elisha’s actions.

On Miracles

There have been many stories by Christians where a loved onewas brought back from the dead. Without a note on their medical records of this and very little in the way of resources to back them up these stories hold little weight, despite that, they are a favorite of pastors in some churches. Many of these stories result from a lack of knowledge of how defibrillators and CPR actually work, which is understandable. Defibrillators cannot restart a heartbeat, they stop it allowing intrinsic mechanisms within the heart to restart the heart with a normal rhythm. In fact a person’s heart may occasionally stop for a fraction of a second to prevent, or stop, an abnormal rhythm known commonly as ectopic beats that often go unnoticed. Beginning a story with someone flat lined and then were defibrillated back to life actually reflects a very poor knowledge of cardiology. Defibrillators can be used to stop a life threatening arrhythmia (such as a heart attack). If the heart is stopped this requires complicated and very fast intervention before the brain becomes starved of oxygen which not only starves brain cells of energy but also triggers a series of reactions within the cells which kills them . Bringing someone back in one piece after their heart has stopped completely is extremely difficult and rarely ever fully successful (brain damage often occurs). There have been instances when someone’s heart has stopped for a long time but through medical intervention, involving both CPR and the application of life support devices, blood flow and a supply of oxygen supply was maintained allowing the brain to remain intact until the heart could be restarted (again not always successful). A slow metabolism brought on due to cold temperatures or meditation can increase the duration of time before brain damage occurs if the heart stops but this is never guaranteed.

Some of these stories, notably by pastors include descriptions of loved ones catching a glimpse of heaven. Strangely many of these stories give very different accounts of what they saw. One would expect if they went to the same place some of the details if not many of them would have been consistent. Unfortunately, the worst offenders of bad stories where a person has been reported as seeing heaven and hell are the ones that start with the line: “the patient’s heart flat lined (no heartbeat, aka dead) and they were defibrillated.” Unless someone had lots of syringes and the correct drugs that probably are not readily available to the general public and other equipment handy (and knew how to use all of these) while someone else did CPR, this would be useless. Even if they did have the right equipment, the success rate of restarting a heart if intrinsic mechanisms fail to restart the heart is not high and more often than not, the victim is revived with brain damage. Whoever wrote these stories had watched too much Hollywood, where defibrillators can apparently cure just about even everything. This gets even worse in modern video games where they can bring the player back to life even after they have just been hit by an explosive.

One such story I heard retold in church, by a ‘friend of a friend of a pastor’, recounts a boy going to heaven after watching TV in the bath (with the TV delicately poised on a ledge) and the TV fell in, on that basis alone the story is highly improbable, nobody is that stupid and no one’s parents would admit to their child doing something that stupid (or allow that in the first place seeing as the boy’s mother was home in the story).  The most unrealistic part, was the fact that the paramedics attempted to use a defibrillator for over twenty minutes, despite the fact they would have known that this would not work (especially after five minutes). Nor do I think God would have been pleased to see the boy as occurs in the father’s story, after getting himself killed by a highly avoidable and highly stupid means. It seems very unfair that God would bring him back to life and not bring back the lives of other people’s kids who have died through no fault of their own (using a TV in the bath was the boys fault). The congregation overhearing the story did not think it was implausible, in fact, the majority thought it sensational.

God’s miracles and answers to prayer have a similar pattern to the above, making it seem as though he is playing favourites or randomly selects a certain number of prayers on any one day and answers them. For anyone struggling in their faith, this is like watching a sibling get utterly pampered and spoilt by their parents while the other sibling themselves gets no attention at all (for infants there is a slight exception as this can be expected to an extent). To use a slightly better analogy, this is like being a child watching your siblings open a massive stack of Christmas presents while you discover you only have one little parcel. This turns out to be something like a pair of socks, which turn out to be for your siblings. For struggling Christians, this is made far worse by some Christians bragging about what God has done in their lives sometimes to the point they run the risk of sounding like total spoilt brats. Even some Christians find this objectionable but often will not politely embarrass the other Christian for their remarks. There are a number of things that Christians say to each other that are usually not expected or intended to be heard by someone who is not a Christian.

The only reason I mention this is because it Is becoming so widespread in the Christian community, it is like the people doing it fail to realize there are 7 billion other people out there, there are people starving and dying of illnesses every day, and they think God cares about their trivial concerns and prayers instead. Many of his prayer answers seem bizarrely random and make you wonder what the person praying did right, to get an answer, that everyone else also praying did wrong. While other prayer requests like praying a cold will go away within a week (which I have heard before) are kind of rigged, they will appear to be answered. Also, if somebody from another religion prayed the exact same thing to their god/s, their prayer would appear answered as well yet this never seems to bother Christians much.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Questions on the New Testament Part 4: On the sacrifice of Jesus

On the sacrifice of Jesus

At the core of Christian doctrine is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, one can expect to be reminded of its importance at least once in most church services, even when a completely different topic is being discussed.

Why did Jesus have to die when so much couldhave been avoided or stopped altogether?
In any event, why did he not come before the flood? Why were people not offered a chance at repentance then? Did God for some reason love these people less?

The obsession of some Christians with scenes or images (such as crucifixes) of Jesus being horrifically tortured, beaten and crucified is worrying. Most religions have nice pictures of the deities they worship (the other two Abrahamic religions are not so keen on the idea). Christians have few nice pictures of Christ, although this seems to have been noticed by some contemporary churches, since many show him dying on the cross or already dead. The passion of the Christ certainly takes this to another level, although in all fairness, the movie gets the point it is trying to make across rather well, as the torture was beyond realistic with Jesus losing far more blood than the average person has. This actually makes me think more on my previous point, why did Jesus have to suffer and die in such a way? When all of the suffering caused by sin could have been averted. Although many Christians have told me it was the only way God could show that he loved us I doubt this as people can show they love someone else without dying or killing an innocent. One would expect Jesus to be offended, or displeased at the constant reminder of his least pleasant experience by his devotees. The obsession with images of the crucifixion reaches unhealthy proportions when some pastors start thinking God made some black holes in the shape of a cross for the exact purposes of being a testament to the crucifixion. To be fair there are streaks of dust being sucked into a black hole in the centre of the whirlpool galaxy that looks like an X If it had a bible verse written under it out of the nebula that would be far more interesting and very difficult to dismiss as a coincidence. It is that or Christianity’s origins are in fact extra-terrestrial and the denizens of the whirlpool galaxy disguised as humans introduced it, but that is delving into the realm of science fiction. This is hardly the first time humans have seen a celestial pattern that has reminded the observer of something on Earth. Many nebulas and constellations have been named because of the object bore resemblance to something on Earth (although I fail to see how some of the constellations resemble the things they have been named after). There is even a name for this phenomenon, pareidolia, Wikipedia has an entire page dedicated to its occurrence in religions including Christianity. To illustrate this point, I have included a second picture of a nebula that resembles a human hand, minus a digit, also known as ‘The hand of God’.

Figure 1: The 'Hand of God'

Figure 2: The Hand of God
Despite the enormity of it all, a good 2/3 of humanity at least are destined for hell, the bible and demographics agrees with this. Would God not be displeased with this number? It is as if he is resigned to circumstances beyond his control and is unable to avoid that so that Christ’s sacrifice was a desperate measure. Based on the fact the he is both omnipotent and omniscient, this does not work. I also am not entirely convinced by my former brethren that asking someone to apologise for something or you will make them suffer is really a great means of apologising but according to the Christian doctrine we must apologise for the wrongs we have committed against God or go to Hell.

Christian’s often cling to the emotional impact that the fact that Christ died for their sins has. In fact, the emotional impact is immensely strong for most; it would probably be decidedly odd for a Christian not to be emotionally impacted by this. I certainly felt an emotional impact when first introduced to the idea. Much of the impact behind this idea lies in the fact that when an individual makes the choice to die for another it is not something the person doing this can come back from and their life will be lost forever. There is no coming back. In fact, not coming back is why such a thing is so powerful, a theme found throughout much of literature often invoking an emotional response in the audience. It is well accepted by the Christian community that Jesus did come back. Agreed the event was highly unpleasant, especially the way it is portrayed sometimes, but did Jesus lose something permanently in doing what he did if he came back? To him, and indeed should be to Christians, death is obsolete in the face of eternity, especially since a new and perfect body awaits. If he did take our punishment, assuming it is not death because everyone die sand it is impossible to dispute that and that the punishment for our sins is actually an eternity in hell would not Jesus taking our place mean that he would, as farfetched as it sounds, go to hell? The Apostle’s Creed suggests this did happen for 3 days, but there are passages in the gospels that do not support this idea (including the story of the thief on the cross beside Jesus in Luke 23:39-43). Some Christians will argue Jesus lost something in being tortured, but the only thing one loses through such a psychologically traumatic event is their sanity, and I am going to assume Jesus was not, and as a divine being could not be, driven insane. The psychology of the damage caused by such an event is complex and beyond the scope of this blog. While I find it impossible to believe if Jesus was not 100% human that he would not be affected by being tortured, he was also (at least apparently) 100% divine, and that would suggest that humans could harm God, which could almost be regarded as blasphemous.

On the subject of Jesus’ sacrifice, at the heart of Christian doctrine is the fact that Jesus died so that we could be forgiven of our sins. Yet despite the fact that this is often repeated by evangelists, it is not mentioned that although Jesus died for your sins you aren’t forgiven unless you ask God for forgiveness. In essence, despite this sacrifice, God is only willing to forgive those who ask for forgiveness. Is this type of conditional forgiveness, “I’ll only forgive you if you say sorry”, truly sincere? Usually the process of forgiving someone is on the shoulders of the one who has been wronged, which is part of the reason why so many people find it difficult to forgive someone that has hurt them. True forgiveness is selfless and doesn’t demand anything in return, it certainly does not involve threatening to torture the offending individual if they do not apologise for their actions and worship you.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Questions on the New Testament Part 3: Parables and Taking the Bible Literally

 Questions on the New Testament Part 3: Parables and Taking the Bible Literally

The parable of the lost sheep and the prodigal son

The parable of the lost sheep and the story of the prodigal son, both favorites among pastors and other church staff seem to present to conflicting ideas. Here are the two parables:

“Which of you men, if you had one hundred sheep, and lost one of them, wouldn’t leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one that was lost, until he found it? When he has found it, he carries it on his shoulders, rejoicing. When he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that even so there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.”

— Luke 15:3-7

But when he came to himself he said, “How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough to spare, and I’m dying with hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and will tell him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight. I am no more worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants.' He arose, and came to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran towards him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.

— Luke 15:17-20

The story of the lost sheep seems to suggest that the shepherd, who in the story is assumed to be analogous to God or Jesus, goes looking for the lost sheep while leaving the rest of the flock behind. In other words, it suggests that God comes looking for us.

In the story of the prodigal son, the boy who runs away from home after being a total git and demanding his inheritance, returns on his own accord and apologises. The father only comes to him after he sees that the boy has made the decision to return. The sheep in the previous parable never made the decision to return, well at least not that we’re made aware of nor is it suggested in any way shape or form from the text assuming the sheep is being made analogous to a person, in that story the shepherd went looking for it.
In other words, in the first story it is presumably meant to be interpreted that God comes looking for us.
In the second story, the opposite is assumed. There are verses that suggests that God chooses us, not the other way around seems to be more in favour of the first parable than the second.

Luke 14:26

"If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple."
- Luke 14:26

Honouring one’s parents (a commandment from the Torah), taking care of family, valuing life (including one’s own) are all core values in Judaism. This seems particularly odd considering that Jesus was a Jew, he wouldhave been going against some core fundamental values the Jewswere taught, and it was not as though there was a problem with them that they needed amending, at least not that meets the eye.

Some say this is because the Greek word for hate means something different, if so (this is commonly said for many words in the bible) why was the verse not written to reflect its original meaning? The people translating in theory had the Holy  Sirit who could probably have told the translators to do this. This also goes against the teachings about loving each other spoken by Jesus in the gospels. One proposed explanation and a highly plausible one are that it was altered by the Roman Catholic Church. It is worth noting that in many of these societies, those in power were literate while quite often those with neither power or wealth were not literate and hence those who were illiterate had no way to question whether what they were being told was right or wrong. Literacy was not a large concern among those struggling to make enough of a living to survive and sadly is still not in many places.

Though he would have been very familiar with Jewish tradition on valuing family, being Jewish himself, Jesus shows an odd level of contempt for this tradition, both in the instance labelled above and in another passage when he tells an apostle off, just about, when they ask if they can first bury their father before following him (Matthew 8:21-22). If these passages are not meant to be taken literally as some say we are supposed to interpret the bible, then how do we to decide which parts are and are not? There seems to be no unified consensus on this issue. The passage from Matthew that says if a part of your body causes you to sin to cut it off (Matthew 18:8) was probably not meant to be taken literally as blood loss and death, or infection, would be highly probable.


The explanation for why Jesus spoke in parables is given in the following passage which has been mentioned in a previous post:

And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?”11 He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.12 “For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.

13 “Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.

14 “And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive;

15 for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.’

16 “But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear;

17 “for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

- Matthew 13:10-17

If Jesus wanted everyone to believe, which evangelicals will often say and the Bible does support the idea in places, why would he deliberately cause people to misunderstand? If God's intention was to deliberately cause people to misunderstand the Bible it appears that thus far he has succeeded. The only problem is, this does not seem very loving and also makes it look like God is willing to let most people perish. Most Christians however don't believe that is the case.

Disobeying the Jewish Sabbath

The Jewish belief in the law of pi’kuah nefesh, states a Jewish person is obligated to break Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath) if a life is to be saved seems to be ignored at times in the New Testament. It seems strange that Jesus gets in trouble for breaking the Sabbath when it is an established rule that the rule if someone's life is in danger. In fact, as far as Judaism is concerned this law, originating from the Torah, overrides any law in the Torah that would otherwise prevent that person from being receiving aid. The Pharisees would have known this although there may have been some cause of confusion if they did not understand an illness was likely to cause death as the very nature of what caused disease would not be understood for centuries to come (though the Hebrews did much better at understanding how to reduce disease than many cultures)/

Is the Bible Supposed to Be Taken Literally?

While there are Christians who believe the Bible should be taken literally, there is one passage in Matthew Chapter 18 which would suggest a literal interpretation of the Bible is incorrect and nobody takes 100% of it literally. The verse in full:

7“Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! 8“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. 9“If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.” – Matthew 18:7-9

Obviously attempting to do any of the above would result in serious injury or death and hence hopefully no one would consider taking these passages literally. Given the lack of medical facilities at the time there was an even greater chance of such actions being fatal. The fact that Jesus spoke in parables employing both metaphors and allegories, which are not supposed to be interpreted literally such as in the parables of the lost sheep and the prodigal son, would also suggest the bible should not be taken literally and is, at least as far as the Old Testament is concerned, a collection of stories meant to teach but not meant to be taken literally.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Odd moments and Issues in the New Testament Part 2

Odd moments in the New Testament

Odd moments, though rarer than the Old Testament include:

1. The nativity story, the inspiration for many Christmas events, has an odd moment at its end. When Herod decides to kill all the children under two in and around Bethlehem Jesus is taken to safety. Yet no attempt is made to stop the massacre of innocents that results at the end of this story, unfortunate for the messiah. This was written in fulfilment of a prophecy, according to the author, from Jeremiah 31:15, in Judaism it is argued that this is part of a lament not a prophecy, indeed in the context of the narrative this was a period of lamentation for the Israelites as they had been exiled to Babylon. Whether or not this event actually occurred is disputed by historians and most believe that it never happened due to the lack of accounts outside Matthew’s gospel, even the other writer’s must have thought it was noteworthy to mention but apparently did not.

2. Matthew 27:53 mentions a number of saints rising up from their graves following the resurrection. No mention is given to what happened to these people, or what they did apart from appearing to lots of people. They receive no other attention other than this verse, not counting Revelations as they are set in two different times. There is no mention of this bizarre event outside the gospel of Matthew or the Bible, despite such an event being very difficult to ignore. Nor did historians at the time write about it. Modern scholars therefore believe it did not actually happen. Theologians will say it did happen but when asked about it remain silent on its obvious absence from the rest of the gospels or recorded history.

2. Some passages in in the Bible suggests that Jesus went to hell for three days and preached to the fallen souls in there, one verse pertaining to this idea is Ephesians 4:9 and another is 1 Peter 3:19. The Apostle's Creed adopted by the Catholic Church, agrees with this idea. However the idea that Jesus went to Hell is not in agreement with Mark who writes in his version of the crucifixion narrative that Jesus told a thief on a cross next to his that he would see him [Jesus] in paradise on that same day (Luke 23:43).

3. In general in the New Testament there seems to be some discontinuity in the idea of Jesus repealing the Old Testament Laws so they no longer have to be followed. The verse used to support this idea is that Jesus came to fulfil the law, that doesn't mean he revoked or repealed them. It simply means he obeyed them. By obeying a law, we fulfil that law. There is no evidence to suggest from the passage in Matthew 5:17-18 that Jesus meant the law no longer had to be followed, despite this not being entirely in agreement with Paul’s writings. Jesus to, and his family, are shown as keeping the Jewish laws except the Sabbath when it is used to save another person’s life, which provided a person is in danger of dying is allowed. A common tactic among street evangelists is to question potential converts as to whether or not they have ever sinned based on the ten commandments, however if the Old Testament was not relevant to Christianity then this seems an odd tactic to use. If the Old Testament is relevant then the evangelist should be following all the rules in the Old Testament, not simply cherry picking the 10 commandments and ignoring the multitude of other rules in the Torah (e.g. Leviticus). Unfortunately for them, any evangelists who enjoy squid, bacon, ham (especially at Christmas time), or a multitude of unclean culinary delights amongst other things have will have broken the rules laid out in Leviticus. Also Christian’s say that God cannot be in the presence of sin, hence why sinners cannot enter heaven, yet despite that Jesus, who is God according to Christianity, walked among sinners in the gospel, conversed and ate with them (even to the discontent of his companions). The argument that God and sin cannot co-exist in the same place does not hold much weight when applied to the Old Testament either as Adam and Eve spoke to God after they ate the fruit even though they were reluctant to do so.

4. The Eucharist, or communion, originates from the story of the Last Supper, in which Jesus breaks bread with the disciples and refers to as his body, the wine they drink is referred to as his blood. Some denominations consider the wine and bread to literally be the blood and body of Jesus. This would be very odd to a Jew to whom the concept of drinking blood was forbidden (in Leviticus) and presumably all the disciples were of Jewish descent.

5. The prophecy of the virgin mother mentioned in the gospels is believed to be an incorrect interpretation of the text in Isiah where the prophecy originates from. The original text in Isiah 7:14 when translated from Hebrew refers to a young woman, not a virgin. The implications are rather significant especially for Catholics who worship Mary as a saint. It may however explain Mary's confusion towards her son's actions.

6. The ending of Mark is absent from the earliest texts of this gospel.

7. The passage in Matthew in which Jesus walks on water (14: 25 – 31), is followed by a section in which Peter goes to join Jesus on the water, panics and ends up having to be rescued. It is suggested that Peter could not swim, or else he would not have panicked or needed rescuing from the water. This seems odd for a fisherman, since if Peter could not swim it is unlikely he would have been a fisherman for very long. Fast forwarding one of the several accounts of Jesus' post resurrection appearances in John 21: 7, Peter sees the risen Jesus on the shore and upon recognizing him clothes himself and swims 100 yards ashore. For someone who could not swim, and was fully clothed which would make swimming difficult even for a confident swimmer, this is quite a feat and suggests there is something fishy about the two passages. That is to say, there is in fact a blatant contradiction.

Judas Iscariot

Despite being in on the plan to have Jesus arrested and even told by Jesus to do it quickly, Judas is often treated as being nearly as evil as the devil himself. Yes, he did betray Jesus but when Jesus tells him to do it quickly this seems to have been planned, and he even points out that it is Judas at one stage that will betray him.

Judas is possessed at one stage by Satan, which begs the question was he therefore, not acting under his own will? If he was not, which when possessed one can assume happens from what the Bible says on the subject, then is he truly to blame for the betrayal and why did not Jesus stop Satan from robbing Judas of his free will by possessing him? Again, according to Jewish belief, the devil cannot act without God’s consent.

Judas oddly dies twice in the New Testament. In the gospels, he hangs himself out of guilt and does not do much with the money he receives for betraying Jesus, in fact he throws it back at the priests who gave it to him. In Acts, he spends the money on some fields and then one day randomly trips over and his guts spill out (Acts 1:18). People do not normally explode upon tripping over, so this verse is not realistic, unless he fell in a pit trap laden with spikes or he fell from a very high cliff which is not what the passage suggests
Some Christians claim that this apparent contradiction is not a contradiction because he hung himself, the tree branch snapped, and he exploded upon impact with the ground, again unless Judas managed to climb an exceptionally tall tree and the rope or branch snapped, or it was hanging over a cliff this is not realistic neither are the two suggested scenarios. Nor would Judas if he was hanging dead from a tree trip over things or fall headlong from tripping. The suggested reason that this is not a contradiction given by Answers in Genesis is rather speculative, not to mention also gross, as well (How did Judas die- Answers in Genesis).


Warning: Some readers may find the description of the commentaries and novels based on Revelations disturbing due to the unfortunately gruesome source material. If you have a weak stomach for descriptions of violence or gore then don't read this last section. You have been warned.

Though it does contain a couple of nice versus towards its end Revelations remains the most bizarre book in the bible. Books on eschatology and commentaries on Revelations are even more gruesome, describing Jesus as being knee deep in the blood of his slaughtered enemies, or God literally crushing people in a wine press made from people instead of grapes. What is more worrying that the gore, is that the 'Christ-faring' Christians writing these things have absolutely no problem with that idea. That idea about the Bible being God's 'love letter' to humanity I mentioned early on? Well, Revelations kind of kills it.

Even odder than gruesome commentaries on Revelations which are in plentiful supply in Christian bookshops, are some of the adaptations and theories based on the book of Revelations. Tim Lahaye’s Left Behind Series is one of the strangest by far, the fact that it sold 60 million copies reflects poorly upon the tastes of its audience who seemed to have no problem with the fact that both God and the anti-Christ are represented as barbaric genocidal maniacs. By far one of the grossest scenes in the series, over 12 books in length and still counting (with spin-offs), is the last battle between the anti-Christ and Jesus. Here, Jesus is described as making the army of atheists explode, in gory detail, with the Christian victors having to dodge the flying body parts (doubles as so bad it is funny). The fact that many Christians in the books audience thought that this was fantastic literature and that it accurately describes whom they think God is worrying. One would have expected Christians to be offended at this representation of God, 60 million copies and a few adaptations later (including a kids version of the series which I hope is less gory to read) only a few softly spoken Christians were labelling the books as barbaric (and I fully agree with them). A couple have even written scathing reviews that I also happen to agree with. The only reason you can find this series outside the Adults Only bookshops is that the writing is so bad the violence more is likely to have one sniggering or laughing at the absurdity of it all than cringing in horror.

Why do Christians have so many theories about Revelations? If the Holy Spirit is helping them they should not be having this problem. Even if he ‘personalised’ the bible for each reader, I doubt he would give them such different interpretations that it leads to nothing but confusion.

Heaven is described as having streets of gold and walls made of diamond. This also presents an issue with the idea of God being humble. These along with other precious stones, jewellery and even some hard to refine metals were used by the rich and powerful as symbols of their wealth. Why would God care for such things? It seems very odd to find this here because most of the authors of the New Testament were highly anti-materialistic and did not encourage showing off one’s riches, Jesus most of all.

On a positive note, Revelations does contain some nice verses easily missed amongst the insanity that is the rest of the book. This includes one frequently cited by evangelists:
"He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
- Revalations 21:4

In the very last parts of Revelations the author leaves a warning for anyone who changes the contents of this book, one assumes this means Revelations as the bible was not compiled till long after the book of Revelations was made (as far as we know).