A More Perfect Human

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts called Mission Log. It explores every episode of Star Trek, one show at a time. The hosts take a deep dive into the meaning, morals, and messages of each episode, as well as provide some great trivia. If you are a Treker, stop reading this and subscribe to the podcast. I’ll wait.

I have been considering a theme that I have wanted to explore for a while, but this weeks podcast really put it over the top for me. The hosts were discussing Dagger of the Mind, with a lot of references to What are Little Girls Made of. Both of these episodes addressed the issue of using different means to create a more perfect human. One has a well-intended, but misguided scientist creating android bodies into which a human’s personality can be stored. With this invention, the scientist hopes to eliminate sickness and death, as well as war. In the other episode, a great scientist runs a prison colony where, through the aid of his mind-wiping machine, he can remove negative impulses from a person’s psyche. In both cases, the scientist are endeavoring to create a more perfect human.

It strikes me that we do not have to explore science fiction, or even fiction, to discover other efforts to create a more perfect human. Criminal rehabilitation is one such effort. One could argue that formal education is another. The church is primarily engaged in trying to fashion a better being, though not completely human. The church eschews humanity in favor of the benevolent, spirit being that inhabits our bodies. Politicians are also about the business of crafting a more perfect human. They believe that through laws, they can redirect our behavior to overcome our worst impulses. Though politics is set up to form a more perfect society, society is made up of individual people who need to be perfected.

With so much energy being poured into perfecting humanity, it seems prudent to ask the question, does humanity really need to be perfected. I’m leaning toward, no. All of the efforts I have mentioned, both real and fictional, start with the premise that humanity is deeply flawed, and in need of fixing. Surely, that must be true. After all, we lie, cheat, steal, and take advantage of people weaker than ourselves. We are full of greed, lust, and petty hatred. Certainly, those are problems that need fixing, right?

I think not.

Before exploring that any further, I want to mention what does bear improving. Earlier, I mentioned that the government, through politics, is there to form a more perfect society. I definitely believe that society could use some work. Whenever two or more people live together and share resources, there have to be rules to regulate the interactions between them. The more people who share the resources, the more stringent the rules have to be for maintaining order. This is further complicated when we ad cultural diversity into the mix. To create a better society, we do not need better people; we need better social contracts. A law is essentially a social contract. It does not address right and wrong, but right and wrong for the best  operation of society for this particular place and time. We can definitely do better than what we are, in my opinion.

While society could use a little work, people are just fine the way they are. To claim that humanity is imperfect is as myopic as complaining that a baby is imperfect. When a mother is presented with her child for the first time, she often proclaims how perfect the newborn is. How can that be. The newborn is messy with afterbirth, drool, noise, and most likely, a mixture of unpleasant odors. What could be less perfect than that. Additionally, the child is infinitely self absorbed. She will do anything within her power to get her way. This trait lasts for quite a long period of time. Some people never outgrow it. Yet, as the child gets older, the trait becomes less perfect.

The reason the child is considered perfect is that the child is exactly the way she is supposed to be at the time. She has more development to do, but anticipation of future development does not make her any less perfect. So it is with humanity. Like the newborn babe, we are already perfect.

There is an even bigger issue when discussing the perfection of humanity. It is the presumption that there is a state of perfection available for us to reach in the first place. To be sure, there is maturation and evolutionary development, but that is a far cry from some ideal state of wholeness. Perfection is not the attainment of an ideal state of wholeness; it is the state of being exactly what one should be at a particular time and place. The newborn is perfect, not because she has a broad vocabulary and an enhanced social consciousness, but because she is exactly what she should be at the time. We count her fingers and toes, not her ability to fend for herself and contribute to society.

I feel like the standard of perfection many want for humanity is equally unrealistic. Religion is the worst offender of unrealistic expectations. The bible has The Lord saying, “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” Falling short of that perfection is the definition of sin that deserves no less than an eternity in the fires of hell. Religion’s standard of perfection is the suppression of most of what makes us human. In mainstream Christianity, humanity is irredeemable. It is our souls, not our humanity that must ultimately be saved.

I contend that we as humans need a certain amount of greed, lust, envy, bigotry, hatred, conflict, and depression in order to be fully human. There is no such thing as a person who is completely selfless and cares only for the needs of others. Who determined that to be the most important attribute? Why is it better that I help you become successful rather than helping myself? The universe does not know the difference between you and me. If only one of us can live, I choose me. Is that wrong? I don’t know or care. I do know that it is human.

I am just as perfected in my humanity when selfish ambition drives me to write the next, great opera, as when I donate a kidney to a stranger. Neither act or motivation makes me more or less perfect as a human being. While it would be nice if we could put an end to sickness and death, I don’t think I want to see us put an end to lust and greed. In fact, sickness and death also serve a purpose. I definitely do not want to see everyone who is currently alive, live forever. I reserve eternity only for me and a few of my closest friends.

The only reason one would meter the, so called, negative attributes is to form a society more conducive to general advancement. Unfortunately, there is still an open question about what constitutes general advancement. What is the endgame of a perfect society peopled with perfect humans? Is it the elimination of hunger, sickness, death, greed, envy, lust, and hatred? If we eliminated these things, what exactly would be left? Compassion? How does one even show compassion to a person who has no needs? Forgiveness would also be eliminated with the absence of anything to forgive. Ambition is meaningless with no more goals for which to strive. Hope is unnecessary when all is fulfilled. Where would procreation be without lust for motivation, and death, pushing us to pass on our genetic material to the next generation? Without the attributes considered by some to be negative, we would no longer be human.

That said, I’m sure evolution is not quite done with us. The human of a hundred years from now will be different from the human of today. Just consider how different humans and our societies are from those of a hundred thousand years ago. Those humans and their societies were no less perfect than our own. As we are no less perfect than humans in our distant future. We are exactly where we should be in our current stage of development. There are always a few outliers who straggle behind the herd, as well as the ones who are several strides ahead of the pack. Outliers notwithstanding, the pack is definitely progressing apace.

I find it fascinating that many an enlightened soul can look upon nature with a sense of awe and declare it good, but look at humanity and conclude that it needs improvement. This self-critical tendency ignores the fact that we are a part of the very natural world we extol as perfect. We are as perfect as a sunrise. As something of a futurist, I like to speculate on the path human evolution will take. What wonders will we behold, and accomplishments achieve? Whatever the future holds, it will not be a more perfect human. I am fine with the state of humanity as it is. I mostly look to the future to provide me with more interesting toys.

David Johnson

Advertisements

Social Activism: The Religion of the Non-Religious (Part 2)

Before getting started, I want to acknowledge the fact that it has been a while since writing my last post. It has been a personally challenging week. You might want to look over the previous post, as I will do little by way of reintroducing the theme. I’m just going to pick up where I left off as if no time had past. Thanks for your patience.

I suggested the religion of social activism has a set of doctrines that are as important as those of any creedal religion. Rather than detailing the specific doctrines as I had intended, I will attempt to summarize these doctrines into broader themes. One of these themes is the advancement of social evolution divorced from any practical, current reality. This is what I consider to be radical utopianism.

Let me be clear. I am all in favor of advancing the pace of social evolution. I have also said on a number of occasions that I am a utopianist. However, I must qualify those statements with the caveat that I recognize that there are many interim steps that must be taken between where we are, and where I would like us to end up. Further, I recognize there are many practical realities that render my utopian vision impossible at the current time. Finally, I recognize that my utopian vision is mine, alone. It is not the one, right vision of the final stage of social evolution. There are other, valid interpretations of an ideal future.

My experience with serious practitioners of the social religion lead me to the conclusion that many in this camp have a radicalized version of utopia that is not firmly rooted in the reality that I know and understand. One example of this can be found in the issue of immigration that is currently raging in the state of Alabama. Let me just say that I am very sympathetic of the cause of my undocumented neighbors. I understand where they are coming from. I know the issues very well, and the people who struggle with them.

However, many do damage to the cause just by seeming so radical, as to alienate the majority of people who are living with practical realities that make this such a difficult issue. The argument is framed in the most divisive of ways. You either agree with us, or you’re a racist. That kind of radicalism is, for me, a bridge too far.

The radicalized view of immigration is a beautiful vision. It suggests that we are all brothers and sisters regardless of borders and artificial lines drawn on a map. One gets the since that this group has no interest in immigration reform, but only in the annihilation of all immigration law. That is simply not going to happen any time soon. Though I would love to see that day come before I die, I have no reasonable expectation that it will. Right now, in our current stage of social evolution, we need boundaries and borders, as much as it pains me to admit it. We cannot simply declare ourselves more evolved than our fellow man and declare war on the idea of immigration law. That is unrealistic and unproductive. The religion of social activism tries to advance us to an idealistic place by skipping over things like practical concerns.

Another tenet of the social faith is that there is one, right vision of the ideal state of human kind. Naturally, this philosophy leads to the worst kind of intolerance and polarization. I have found there is no difference in the level of tolerance of the loving left, and the rigid right. The dark side of the liberal utopian seems to be a deep-seeded hatred of anything that smacks of conservatism. From the same mouth that flows words of love, justice, and solidarity, come some of the worst torrents of embittered vitriol against fellow human beings that happen to be of a conservative bent. I can only describe the anti-conservative rhetoric as poisonous. Negative stereotypes and even hate-speech seem to be perfectly fair game when referring to conservatives. It is a blind spot of which they seem to be completely unaware.

One of the people I know who is extremely active and productive with regard to charitable work is also the meanest, bitterest, most abrasive and judgmental person I have ever encountered, especially once you get on the wrong side of her worldview. She is either unaware, or unconcerned about the dichotomy. She is far from alone when it comes to this trait. People who believe they have the perfect vision for how others should live, tend not to suffer fools well: fools being anyone who disagrees with that vision. Such people are bigoted, greedy, selfish, backward, narrow-minded, sub-human slime. Needless to say, this does not make for an environment conducive to negotiating middle ground. This type of radical allism is a universal sign of the true believer of any religion.

Finally, there is the matter of motivation. The practitioner of the social religion will insist that they are strictly motivated by a desire to help others. In no way is their activism a matter of selfish fulfillment. They see themselves as saints, practically martyrs. They are the most selfless people they know. That is unfortunate, as I do not trust anyone who claims to be completely selfless in his or her desire to help me.

I believe there are no healthy, selfless motivations. At the very minimum, helping others feels good. Wanting to achieve that feeling is a selfish motivation. There is also a certain element of power dynamics in providing aid to another. When you provide aid to another, you gain a measure of power over that person. On a grand, political scale, standing up for the rights of others can bring you a great deal of power. The power brokers of social activism become powerful in their own rights.

The ultimate goal of every anti-establishmentarian is to some day, become the establishment. They want their vision of the body politic to be the framework of reality, as opposed to the one that is in place. Those are perfectly reasonable, and selfish motivations. People who do not see their own, selfish motivations are far more dangerous than those who do. The person who is convinced that he is motivated by absolute good, can become convinced that you are motivated by absolute evil. That person is not your friend.

Is it possible to be a social activist without drinking the Kool-Aid of the religion? At this point, I honestly do not know. I will let you know when I do.

 

David Johnson

An Honest Discussion about Health Care

It seems to be all the rage.  It was one of my four points in a recent post on human rights. It is in the news and in the courts.  It is on the lips of friends on the left and right in the political arena.  In light of current events, I feel compelled to give it a post of its own.  I also have a small amount of expertise on the subject, having worked in the insurance industry for a number of years.  I feel dirty just admitting it.  Here we go.

We will start with a parable floating around the internet that attempts to summarize the recent court decision:

A man walks into a convenience store and asks the price of a pack of gum.  The clerk replies that the gum is $.50.  The man thanks the clerk and says he’s not interested and turns to leave.  The clerk says in a louder, more insistent voice that, “In that case, it will be $2,75.”

The moral, or immorality of the story is that the man is charged a massive penalty for not buying something.  That is one of the more controversial components of the new, national health care law recently passed.  The Supreme Court has upheld that Congress can either compel us to buy insurance, or penalize (tax) us for not buying it.  Either way, we’re going to pay.  It feels a little like a protection racket.  That has got some of my more conservative friends up in arms.  Honestly, I’m not happy about that aspect of it, either.  It feels like bad law to me.  I wonder if that makes me a conservative?  Hmm…

Unfortunately, health care is a lot more complicated than that.  Even isolating it to the issue of mandatory insurance does not simplify the matter.  A big part of the unsustainable problem with health care is the ridiculously high cost associated with every aspect of it.  Without insurance, you cannot hope to live very long without either being independently wealthy, or subsidized by everyone else who pays into the system.  Even if you are wealthy, given enough age and illness, you wealth will run out and you will find yourself on the dole.  In the end, someone other than you will be paying those expenses.

This is why auto insurance is mandatory.  In the event you cause an accident, you have to have the resources to take care of the other person’s damage.  It is fundamentally unfair for you to create expenses for another person that you cannot pay.  With rare exception, health care is an expense you are creating for others.  In almost every configuration, health care is a shared expense.  Let me tell you how:

Insurance is the ultimate form of collective bargaining.  Take a look at the next statement you get from your insurance company.  One figure will be what the hospital initially charged.  Another figure will be what the hospital charged your insurance company.  Two more figures shown what the insurance company actually paid and what you have left to pay.  The first two figures are the ones we are most interested in at the moment.  Those are the ones that show the power of collective bargaining.

There is a reason why doctor’s only take up to a certain number of Medicare patients.  That is because the government has the most power to decide what it will pay for a given service.  That power translates to paying less for a given service.  The hospital may think your CAT scan was worth upward of $15,000, while Medicare was thinking more along the lines of $500.  That battle over cost has already been fought and won by Medicare.  Almost every treatment has a book value.  It differs depending on who’s book you are looking at.  If a doctor orders two patients the same treatments, one being Medicare, the medicare patient will pay out less than the other one every time.  Doctors lose money on Medicare.

Blue Cross can afford to pay out more because they have higher premiums.  Most people would rather have Blue Cross than Medicare if they were getting their choice for free.  But, it does not matter what insurance you have.  The price they pay for service on your behalf is a fraction of the price per service you would pay if directly billed.  As an individual, you have no power.  You must pay what the hospital or doctor thinks they are worth.  With insurance, you pay the discounts associated with a large group of collective bargainers.  You are not doing it on your own.  You are buying into a club to leverage the power of the collective, whether you know it or not.

Adding to the complexity of the current health care dilim a is the fact that when a person enters an emergency room seeking care, they cannot be turned away due to the lack of resources.  They must be treated.  For many people, their only health care program is the emergency room.  My understanding is that the vast majority of these bills are never paid by the people who incur them.  That means the expense is passed on to everyone in the system.

If it is fundamentally unfair to incur expenses that others have to pay, then why should it be mandatory for hospitals to treat everyone regardless of the ability to pay for services rendered?  No cash deposit?  No credit or debit card?  No proof of insurance?  No service!  Why should that not be the policy at the door of every ER?  Anything else is just free health care.  As for persons being unconscious when brought in by an ambulance, that is good reason to make sure these forms of payment are on file at every hospital in the country using a massive database.  Put an ID chip in the hand of everyone starting with the number, 666 for all I care.  (Maybe that’s how it happens.  Maybe Obama is the anti… Nevermind).

Let’s not lose the thread.  My point being, even when you think you are being ruggedly independent, you are probably not.  If you insist that I am missing the obvious way around the problem by just having the doctor or hospital bill you for services rendered, you’re wrong.  I haven’t missed it at all.  That is not the road to your independence.  That is the road to the bankrupt system we have today.  What you are demanding is a line of unsecured credit.  Worse yet, we already know you are unhealthy.  Your ability to pay it back is somewhat compromised.  You might be incurring a bill of $100,000 anytime you walk into the door, and you are going to write a rubber check from the bank for Hopes and Dreams.  That is not how business operates.  Health care, first and foremost, is a business, not a right.

You do not have a right to an unsecured line of credit at any business.  Here’s the deal; if you want to avoid insurance, present a secured line of credit.  When that line of credit runs out, so does your service.  You are disconnected from all the machines and wheeled out the door.  Come back again real soon when you’ve found a buyer for your house.  Sorry.  You didn’t want the power of collective bargaining that would have made this treatment affordable.

Still think it should be your choice?  Well the American people, through their representatives, disagree.  We are slowly but surely, waking up to the reality that health care for individuals is a shared expense.  You being forced to carry health insurance is no different than being forced to carry liability, auto insurance.  It is not about your protection, but the protection of society.  You are a liability.  Every individual is.

When you catch what you think is a cold, do you stay home and rest until you get all better?  probably not.  You are probably one of those who selfishly goes off to work, infecting everyone around you like typhoid Mary, knocking out half the workforce, and most of your customers.  Who knew you were the next carrier of a virulent, but unnamed plague?  All you get are a few cold symptoms, but you take out half the SE.  Good job Mr. Independent.  Good job!  Why on earth should you get a free pass?

WE ARE ALL LIABILITIES!  At some point, we will all cost one another money in the health care system.

That will do for now.  If I take up the pen again on this issue, it will be on the subject of pre-existing conditions.  I warn you in advance, though, I really don’t want to.  I hate the subject of health care.  There is so much hypocrisy and demagoguery surrounding the issue, and very little honest discussion.  It is such an emotional issue, even among people of superior intellect.  That is because even people of superior intellect have personal issues with mortality.  The discussions about health care are not really about a business; they are about our inability to deal with mortality: ours, and the ones we love.

Mixed into this bag is a heavy portion of economics.  How will we force people to pay for something they cannot afford.  Recall the opening parable.  The man who inquired about the gum had $1.  he needed $.85 for his bus ticket to get home.  He did not have enough for both the gum and the bus ticket.  Something had to give.  He couldn’t do both.  He can’t be forced to buy what he cannot afford.  Or, perhaps he give in and buys the gum for $.50.  Then, the store is forced, by the government, to subsidize the man’s $.85 bus ticket.  Now the store is losing $.35 per customer, but at least everyone has gum.

I know it is not quite that simple, by tens of thousands of pages of legalese.  But that is precisely why I don’t like writing about the subject.  There are no simplistic answers that satisfy the emotional fears and longings of the people who are so passionate about the subject.

Happy Fourth

David Johnson

Beyond Tribe

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

This is the time of year when we revel in our tribal comfort.  Once a year, we set aside our differences to join hands in unity.  But this is a little like the sons of Abraham joining hands in unity and pretending they do not represent a tribal religion.  Ironically, when they join hands in unity, they represent the ultimate in tribal religion.   Americans are seldom more tribal than when we are united under the red white and blue banner.

While it is true that tribal impulses played a part in our evolutionary progress, that time has long passed.  We have graduated from caveman school, and a lot has changed.  There is a lot of psychological baggage we need to jettison for us to successfully advance to the next stage of human development.  Tribalism is one of them.

The Pledge of Allegiance:  a doctrine I have long refused to publicly proclaim, is America’s ultimate statement of tribal dedication.  It, like all such tribal creeds, is full of hidden contradictions and self-deception.  There is nothing there that inspires confidence in one who calls home, any square of land outside of these blessed borders.  I am left to conclude that even if we achieve this mythical union that we hold so dear, we would not necessarily have promoted a greater humanity.

I pledge allegiance to a greater humanity.  It doesn’t have a flag.  The United States does not represent humanity.  It’s flag is too small.  My allegiance includes the idealism of an empowered citizenry.  However, that republic remains only an ideal.  It does not yet exist.  What passes as a republic of empowered citizens in America is a lamentable joke, and receives no portion of my pledge.

One nation under god is a target for war.  I will go to war against such a country.  To hell with such a country.  When nationalism becomes Zionism, becomes theocracy, your time has past, if it ever was.  When one nation under god is replace with, one world under humanity, sign me up.  Till then, one nation under god can only survive as long as it does not encounter a stronger nation under a stronger god.  We know how that story ends.

As far as the rest, indivisible, liberty and justice for all, who really believes that we have achieved all that, or that the flag represents all that?  Outside of this holiday, we are as divided as any country in the world.  We do not offer liberty and justice for all, even when limited to our own borders, nor have we ever.  This has always been more fantasy than fact.

Today, I wear my Repeal HB56 T-shirt, with my LBGTQ button binned to it to remind me just how far from the mark we are.  At the Unitarian Church where I attend, when the pledge is spoken, (if it is) I will not just remain silent; I will walk out.  It is my intention to do the same wherever this action is feasible to do.  I will not be seen as joining in while my tribe pounds their chest in defiance against other tribes.  I separate myself from such behavior.  I will stand outside of, and beyond tribe.  This is my protest.  This is my pledge.  This is my prayer.

 

David Johnson

Human Rights Part Six (Conclusion)

Baseline

There are four areas of privilege I want to suggest as a baseline for all humanity.  If my previous post sounded like a manifesto of the republican party, this will sound like something from the socialist party.  We will all be much better off doing away with labels.

Education

I call for free education up to and including terminal degrees.  This needs to happen immediately.  Knowledge is free.  No one has a copyright on math.  No one owns an equation.  No one collects royalties for the proper use of grammar.  Knowledge is universally free; it is just not universally available.  Education is simply the process of imparting knowledge from one person to another.  That is a minimal cost.  We have more, cost effective ways of imparting knowledge around the world for minimal cost, than at any other time in history.  As technology goes up, the price just keeps going down.

Who does it benefit to have an ignorant population?  Dictatorships, and other types of political systems I would happily see destroyed.  It benefits people who want to control other people, or take advantage of other people in some way.  Economics teaches that we can charge more for a scarce resource.  We have created artificial scarcity of resources in education that has caused nothing but harm to society.  Knowledge is abundant and free.  Passing that knowledge along is easy and cheap.  Knowledge is power.  It is past time we start empowering individuals.

Jobs

These newly empowered individuals are going to need a job.  Frankly, many of these will become job creators.  All will become more qualified for better jobs.  There should never be a such thing as an able-bodied person who wants to work, but is unemployed.  In a well-ordered society, this should not happen.  In America, this is happening all the time, to a frighteningly large percentage of the population.

A big part of the problem is poor information allocation.  It is stupidly difficult for qualified people looking for a particular job to find the company that has an opening for that very job.  It is equally difficult for the company to find that qualified seeker.  With the number of resumes and applications already digitized, no one should ever have to fill out a speculative job application again.  You can go to a major shopping mall and fill out ann application with all 300 stores.  If you’re lucky, five of them are hiring, and one of them will look at your application.  What a waste!

Here’s a thought.  Produce a single application format.  Let everyone fill it out digitally, ONCE!  Let a government supercomputer, or for that matter, a ten-year old Dell in some closet, work away at matching applications with available jobs.  Everyone with an application on file would, at least, always have a few good prospects.  That is a cheap solution to half the problem.  The other half of the problem is the people who are not qualified for any available job.

The qualification part of the equation is mostly eliminated by the free education program.  There is still the matter of creating enough jobs.  This country has not been very creative when it comes to creating jobs.  Not everyone will do well in school.  Some people simply do not have the mental capacity.  That does not mean they cannot work.  Everyone should be able to contribute.  These are the people who need the government to provide them with minimum-wage jobs.  It is not a Well Fare check; it’s a paycheck.  That makes all the difference.  Trading positive contribution for income should not be that complicated.  A minimum-wage job should be a basic human privilege

Housing

If the first two things are done right, then this one should be a no-brainer.  Everyone needs a place to live; not everyone can afford a $2,000 mortgage.  Since many of these new incomes are low, there has to be low income housing available for every working family.  A part of being in the system means that you are either in school getting a higher education, or you are gainfully employed.  (I am not considering persons with disabilities at this time).  Among the able-bodied, there are no exceptions.  No school, no work, no housing.  To be in government housing is to be in school or at work.

Either way, society wins.  A person in school might not have to pay any rent while in school.  After the first two years, they might be required to work part-time and start paying something for housing.  The details don’t really matter.  A person who completes a degree is far more likely to become a contributor to society at a far greater level than the initial investment of two to four years of housing.  If a person has a job, the housing bill, including utilities, would be a simple percentage of total wages, taken out from the top.  Again, every body wins.

Healthcare

Besides education, there may not be a system in need of a more radical overhaul than healthcare.  I’ll try to keep this short and simple.  A vast amount of individual wealth is lost on just trying to stay alive.  Severe chest pain that leads to an ER visit, that turns out to be gas, that is cured by a sip of Malox, can cost upwards of $15,000.  You either don’t pay for it, incurring debt that limits your ability to finance other necessities.  or you try to pay it, thus limiting your ability to pay for other necessities.  You, and society lose either way.

As far as the mess that is insurance…  Oh, never mind.  I don’t even want to get started with insurance.

Time for me to say something unpopular.  The largest, and most wasteful medical expense the world will ever know is that which is associated with the end of life.  The last two weeks of life are killing this country because we just can’t face death like mature human beings.  The money spent by the government during that period, alone, could fund a national healthcare program for the rest of us.  Currently, we do not have a healthcare system; we have a death care system.  That is untenable, immature, and damaging to the evolution of our species.

Currently, our death care system invests the vast majority of its money and technology in about two weeks of denial.  If a person wants to invest their own money in keeping a terminal loved one, technically, alive for a couple of extra weeks to the tune of a few million dollars, be my guest.  But, when your grief and denial costs me $15,000 for a sip of Malox, we have a problem.  We have a problem.  Isn’t it past time we stop investing in death, and start investing in health?  If we did, everyone in the world, not just this country could enjoy the benefits of a healthier, if slightly shorter life.

Well, that’s it: my manifesto for human privilege, and my understanding of human rights. I will reveal a poorly kept secret to the reader of all six parts.  I did not end up where I thought I would when I started.  I began this exploration of the subject as a card-carrying member of the Rightest religion.  My thoughts on human rights were probably much the same as the average, non-religious liberal.  (Labels).  In the end, it is more important for me to know true things than to hold my ground on a given position.

It is also important to acknowledge that I don’t have all of the answers.  Heck!  I may not have any of the answers.  But what I do have, for the first time, is a well-reasoned hypothesis.  Naturally, emotion plays a part.  It provides fuel for reason; it does not replace it.  I have seen many people emote on the subject of human rights, and present better rhetoric than me.  But I have seen few attempts at a reasonable thesis.  This is mine.  I welcome yours.

David Johnson

Human Rights Part Four

Human Wrongs

Last time, I said that human rights do not really exist.  I implied that the reason was because of human wrongs that overwhelmed our desire to create universal rights.  This is one of those posts that can quickly spiral out of control.  So I will narrow it down to three brief points.  This is not intended to be an exhaustive, detailed list, but rather, a few broad strokes.

When Humanity Conflicts with the Cult of Self

Selfishness is a necessary part of self-awareness.  It is inextricably linked to being human.  Only a defective human, or a machine can possess a complete lack of self.  Therefore, it is important to understand that I do not speak of selfishness in a derogatory manner.  Selfishness only becomes a bad thing when it goes to extreme levels and causes societal harm.  Otherwise, it is an essential part of being human.

The problem with defining any, universal, human right, is that at some point, it will always put one person or tribe in conflict with another.  It will do so every time.  An almost born baby will never have a right to life if it conflicts with the mother’s right to finish school or pursue a career.  The laborer will never have the right to safe working conditions and good benefits if it conflicts with the Board of Directors’ ability to make obscene profits and keep their jets well fueled.  You will never be allowed to pursue your happiness across my lawn.  Get off my lawn!  I am a vocal champion of your human rights up to, but no including the point where they conflict with my selfish needs or desires.  That makes it very difficult to establish universal, human rights.

Rights are Taken, not Given

A sad truth about power dynamics is that power only listens to power, and only yields to more power.  This means that the powerless will stay powerless until they find the will and a way to take power.  Rights are an expression of power.  We like to pretend that “rights” are a way for the weak to enjoy the privileges of the strong.  That is simply not how the world works.  I’m as much of a utopianist as anyone else, but I inhabit this world, recognizing the way it really is, not the way I want it to be.

In the real world, if you want a right, you need power.  That is why human rights have devolved into special interest rights.  Only those that have found ways to gain power have rights.  Special interest groups provide power by proxy.  A truly powerless person has no rights, and never will.  You have all the rights in the world until the hand-cuffs are clapped on, and the prison doors clang shut.  Let’s talk about your rights, now.  Oh, yeah!  You don’t have any!

Children have the right to obey their parents, eat their vegetables, and  shut up.  No power, no rights.  Muslim women have the right to… hmmm…  No power, no rights.  The blind, deaf, lame, and mentally challenged have as many rights as they have been able to take by proxy through organizations that champion their cause.  I contend that the wheelchair bound have been considerably more successful than the visually impaired in eking out some semblance of human rights.  If I was wheelchair bound instead of visually impaired, perhaps I would see things differently.

There can be no universal, human rights because humans do not universally hold, or equally share power.  If you are waiting for god to give you rights, you have a long wait ahead of you.  If you are unwilling or unable to take the rights you want to have, then you will not have them.  Eventually, there will come a time when the majority of people in power will see the benefit of empowering everyone.  But that day remains in the utopian future.

There is No Hegemon

In a recent iPhone commercial, a teen activates Siri: the iPhone’s personal assistant function, and tell it to call him “Rock God”, as he has aspirations of  become a rock music star.  Here is a bit of insight into my personality that you didn’t want to know.  My iPhone calls me Hegemon.  As my brother used to say, if you’re going to dream, dream big.  🙂

I do not believe that utopia can be realized outside of some type of one-world government.  I understand that the very thought of such a government scares many people half to death, and works others into a near insane frenzy.  Yet, there it is.  For us to all be humans and not islands of special interests, we must be one world, one people, one government, one currency and system of trade, one law, one set of humans with one set of rights.  In 2012 CE, the year of this writing, we are still a tribal world.  The United States of America is United only in the loosest of terms.  I believe humanity must unite or die.  The universe is too big, and does not care about our individual tribe or concerns.

I hereby run for the office of Hegemon.  At least, then, we would have one voice that could speak to one set of universal, human rights.

I’m not holding my breath.

There is another human wrong that poisons the well of human rights.  That is the fact that we believe that rights come to us for free, and independent of human responsibility.. Decoupling rights from responsibilities makes it almost impossible to talk about either with any clarity.

More to come.

David Johnson

Sins of the Father Chapter Twelve, the final chapter

Chapter Twelve

 

The Work of His Hands

 

 

 

Free Will

 

In a last ditch effort to exonerate god for any wrongdoing, we throw the final hail mary: free will.  We are told that in the beginning, god created the heavens and the earth.  Well, that wasn’t the beginning, even by god’s standards.  There were already angels and demons.  There had already been a war in heaven.  We know this because the serpent was already evil, as we have already pointed out.  There were enough beings to have a war.  God had already completed at least one cycle of creation before our beginning ever came about.

One thing that was already an aspect of god’s creation was free will.  God created free moral beings.  In order for morality to exist, there must also be immorality.  Good and evil are on the opposite sides of the same moral coin.  The logic goes that you can have morally neutral beings or free will beings, but not both in the same being.  It also follows that where there is good, evil must be present as an option.  There is no such thing as a one sided coin.

God, however, is the exception to this logical rule.  God is presented as completely good without any possibility of evil.  It is not that he chooses to do no evil: it is that he cannot choose to do evil.  It is not within him to lust, or murder, or lie, or any other immoral thing.  It is not a part of his nature, nor can he take on such a nature.  God can no more be evil than a man could fly under his own power.  You just as well ask circles to be square.  God is the world’s only one sided coin.

A philosophical question worth asking at this point is would it be possible for god to exactly reproduce himself?  Since god is perfect, we assume that everything he creates must also be perfect.  If god is good with no possibility of evil, why are his creations not equally good with no possibility of evil?  Is it possible for god to make other one sided coins?  I think not.

Consider the angels.  They were free will beings long before we were created.  Look at how that turned out.  God ended up with Satan, a war, and a third of his angels arrayed against him.  Most of that is based on conjecture and misunderstood scriptures.  Who knows what really happened.  All we really know, or think we know, is that something went horribly wrong.  Suddenly, the all powerful, all knowing, all loving god was surrounded by evil for which he was in no way responsible.

Either god involuntarily lost, or voluntarily surrendered control of his creation.  This happened because of the mechanism of free will.  God decided to take a walk on the wild side and see what happens if he makes intelligent beings that can make moral decisions for themselves.  He further decides to let free will take its course without him forcing moral choices one way or the other.  There is one extraordinary aspect of this free will we enjoy.  God, himself is a free moral agent that has no capacity for evil, yet he created us as free moral agents with a capacity for evil.  He endowed us with a quality that he, himself does not possess.  Why, never mind how, would he do such a thing?

I can think of three possible answers.  God wanted to exercise his graciousness.  He could not do that if his creatures were without fault.  Sin must exist so that grace may abound, despite Paul’s attestations to the contrary.  Another possibility is that god wanted to give glory to the son, and the son, glory to the father.  Think of it as a deified mutual adoration society.  The third reason is that god wanted to be loved.  Love cannot be forced.  It must coexist with the option of rejection.  There is some biblical support for all of these options.  None of them are fully satisfying.  All of them suggest that free will has nothing to do with us and everything to do with god.

Ultimately, free will fails as a theodicy along with all the rest.  God is still the author of free will.  More than that, he is in control of it.  It could even be said that free will does not really exist.  It is a matter of sovereignty.  Philosophically, there cannot be two beings sharing the same realm, both with absolute sovereignty.  What happens when two sovereign wills collide?  An unstoppable force can never meet an immovable object lest one ceases to exist.

The bible is all too clear in all too many places that god maintains sovereignty over all of creation.  He gives up nothing to us.  When necessary, he will overwhelm our will so that his will is done.  No matter how many times god says in plain language that he hardened Pharaoh’s heart, we will not believe it.  Even though Paul says that god made some to be flower pots and some to be chamber pots, we will not believe it.  Well, I finally believe it.  The god of the bible is in control of everyone and everything.  There can be no free will defense because there can be no free will outside of god.  The illusion of free will is the best we can claim.

 

 

Paradise Lost

 

In the beginning, god created paradise.  There can be no other word for it.  Eden was everything that we could ever hope for.  We had perfect bodies and minds.  We had perfect companionship.  We had a perfect home with perfect air and perfect water.  We had a perfect occupation.  We even had a perfect relationship with god.  Why was that not the beginning and end of the story?  How could perfection beget imperfection?

Maybe things weren’t so perfect after all.

The first hint of imperfection was that man found no companion for himself among the animals.  When god corrected that problem, he created another by making a woman that was dumber than a snake.  The snake had his mind set against god.  That seems like a design flaw.  The garden had no security system to keep the devil out.  Oh, and one of the trees bearing enticing fruit was forbidden.  Perfection is starting to look a little less perfect.

About that tree, why was it there?  The garden would have been home to humankind today if not for that tree.  Was it really necessary.  Eating the fruit gave man knowledge that god did not want him to have.  Is that really true?  If god did not want man to have the knowledge, why make the knowledge available in the first place?  If the knowledge had to exist in some tangible form, why not put it outside of the garden where it could not be found?  If it had to be in plain sight, why not make it unattractive?  There is simply no explanation for that tree being there at all except to serve as a temptation for evil.  As we all know, god tempts no man with evil.  Really?

Adam and Eve were set up for failure.  They were more innocent than clever.  They had a tempter residing in the garden with them.  They had an attractive temptation place there by god.  They had no hope.  As I have already stated, their transgression did not bring sin into the world; god brought it into the world in the form of the serpent.  I have no doubt that had Adam and Eve rebuffed the serpent’s advances, god would have sent them a talking orangutan with an even stronger temptation.  Make no mistake about it.  Eden was no paradise; it was a death trap.  Adam and Eve were the first victims.  We are their true heirs.

 

 

Vessels of Destruction

 

“For the Scriptures say that God told Pharaoh, “I have appointed you for the very purpose of displaying my power in you and to spread my fame throughout the earth.” So you see, God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refuse to listen.

Well then, you might say, “Why does God blame people for not responding? Haven’t they simply done what he makes them do?”

No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who were made for destruction. He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory. And we are among those whom he selected, both from the Jews and from the Gentiles.” (Rom 9:17-24 NLT-SE)

 

This passage sounds way too Jobesque for my money.  Here, again, any hope of theodicy has been removed.  Like Lee Harvey Oswald, Pharaoh could have been dragged away shouting his last public words, “I’m just a patsy!”  God wanted Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened.  Can we stop already with the spiritualizing of that term?  The bible even tells us why god wanted that outcome.  God wanted to make a show of power and make himself world famous.

For this infamy, god pounded the Egyptians mercilessly and killed all their first born sons.  Time and again, Pharaoh was convinced to do what was right.  Time and again, god hardened his heart so that he did what was wrong.  God prepared ten plagues and he was bound and determined to deliver ten plagues.  Pharaoh’s repentance be damned.  Pharaoh was born and raised up to be a vessel of destruction, and by god, that is what he was going to be.

How did sin enter into the world?  God made, and is still making, vessels of destruction.  These vessels cause destruction in the world just as they, themselves, are slated for destruction.  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Because god put bad people there to do bad things to good people.  If no people are handy, he will use a Satan.  If no Satan is handy, he will do it himself.

Why does he want these things to happen?  Perhaps partly, to build your character and prepare you for the next life.  If this is prep for what is to come, then count me out of what is to come.  Mostly, he does it to magnify his own glory.  He will be loved and praised and feared, even if he has to torture and murder almost everyone who has ever lived to accomplish it.

Why does god choose some to be evil?  As in the book of Job, the answer is a thundering voice from the whirlwind demanding to know who you think you are to question the almighty god.  You’re not even a worm.  You are nothing more than a lump of clay.  Can it even be called genocide or cruelty if all that is being smashed is a world of clay people?  Make no mistake about it.  Vessels of destruction are part of the work of his wonderful hands.

 

 

Sickness and Suffering

 

“And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” (John 9:1-3 KJVS)

 

In some ways, we have come full circle.  We are left scratching our heads and trying to puzzle out why sickness and suffering are allowed.  In previous chapters, we explored the connection of suffering with sin.  We looked at a few ways that suffering is explained in connection with sin.  The bible has much to say on the topic and it is all confusing and contradictory.  It is little wonder the disciples were confused when they saw the blind man.

They had been taught by their sacred scriptures that suffering came as a result of the sins of the father, generational curses, and the like.  Being good Jews and faithful to what they had been taught, they believed it.  Unfortunately, they had also been taught that the individual who sinned would be the only one who paid the price for his sin.  This was a different and contradictory teaching from the one they had accepted.  But, being good Jews who tried to do as the scripture taught, they accepted that teaching as well.  Their notion of suffering was a conflation of all the various teachings of scripture, no matter how confusing or contradictory they were.

Then, along comes Jesus.  They see a situation that might help clear up the confusion.  With both feet firmly planted, they ask Jesus which theodicy is right.  Jesus once again takes their legs out from under them.  In no uncertain terms, Jesus says that neither theodicy is correct.  This man is blind so that god can show his power.  If, in fact, the man was born blind for that purpose, then it was god who made him blind.  It was not human nature or original sin or the fall or the devil or free will.  It was the work of god’s hand.

God produces sickness and suffering so that his power can be made manifest.  Well, I say his sick little plan has failed.  Where is the manifestation of his power?  I see plenty of sickness and suffering.  Where is his mighty hand of deliverance?  Also, does it matter?  God is the doctor who goes into a perfectly healthy village in a third world country.  He releases a virus into the population and kills many and causes all but his favorites to suffer.  At some point, he declares that he has the cure.  All it will cost is the love, devotion, obedience, and praise of the villagers.  For a select few, he doles out the vaccine: only enough to treat them, never enough to cure them.  This mad doctor is both the cause and the cure of all the problems in the village.

According to Jesus, god is that mad doctor.  He causes people to be sick and afflicted.  He brings people down with disease and disgrace.  Sometimes these things are used as a punishment for when you get out of line.  Other times it is a test for when you have been righteous.  Still other times it is for no reason, as with Job.  In all cases, it is so god can strut his stuff in his own time and way.

Well, I want to opt out.  I don’t want to be a patsy.  I don’t want to be a pawn in the cosmic game.  I don’t want to be a poker chip in a cosmic bet.  I don’t want to spend a lifetime of suffering just to bring some form of glory to such a god.  I just want to live my life and be left alone by all of the cosmic bullies.  But, of course, that is not an option.  I must either cower before the might of god and, if I am lucky, life forever with him in heaven.  Or, the unspeakable alternative.

 

 

The Second Death

 

“He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”” (Rev 21:6-8 NIV)

 

“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands.  May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s holy people.  If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one foot than to be thrown into hell with two feet. May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s holy people. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It’s better to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, ‘where the maggots never die and the fire never goes out.’” (Mark 9:43-48 NLT-SE)

 

Either you enter into the kingdom, or you are sent to hell: a place where the maggots do not die and the fire never goes out.  It is the second death, as if the first death wasn’t bad enough.  When Adam sinned this brought physical death into the world according to some views of the story.  We were originally meant to live forever.  From the day that Adam bit the fruit, he and all his kin were condemned to death.

And what a death it was.

In a since, the whole world died.  One might say the whole world went to hell.  Not only is death a reality, it is a hellish reality.  Consider the countless ways we die.  Starvation, exsanguination, evisceration, asphyxiation,  strangulation, deprivation, cannibalization, death by bullet, blade, and beating, slow, lingering, torturous deaths, fire, falling, fear, all these and more should compose enough horrifyingly hideous hells to satiate the most diabolically dreaded deity.  Unfortunately, it is still not enough.  The god of the bible requires even more.

Depending on your interpretation of scripture, your after death milage may vary.  For many, hell is the flaming eternity that awaits those who did not please god.  What is the crime that brings you to this end?  It might be  anything from telling a lie to picking the wrong denomination.  Misunderstanding some fine point of doctrine may well be enough to do the trick.  You thought you were heaven bound all the way up to the point when you opened your eyes and found yourself burning in hell.  Turns out the formula you used for your baptism was slightly off.  Oh, well, you deserve what you get.

As it turns out, your death by pancreatic cancer is not death enough.  Smoked yourself to an emphysema end?  Not good enough, I say, not good enough!  Drank your way into a cirrhosis sendoff?  Did depression lead you to your doom?  Have I got bad news for you; that was only the first death.  Unless you are one of the precious few who found their way into the narrow gate, there is a second death awaiting you.  You will be raised up from the first death and given a new body: one that can hold together under unspeakable, endless torment.  If that does not make you want to praise the name of Jesus, then I don’t know what will.

Conclusion

 

 

 

I have been a Christian for as long as I can remember.  I was baptized when I was seven, but I knew, and accepted the basic tenets of the Christian faith long before that.  I drank it in with my mother’s milk.  I grew up hearing the sermons of my father who was a preacher for most of my childhood.  I was one of three exceptionally talented sons.  It was not long before I took my rightful place in the pulpit.

I was a skilled orator and an even better singer and musician.  My career in the church was a sure thing.  My future was well established.  There were, however, a few bumps along the way.  I grew up in the conservative, mainline churches of Christ: the non-instrumental variety.  Mine was an order of strict adherence to the literal interpretation of scripture.

We took a high view of scripture.  We believed that every word was inspired by the holy spirit of the godhead.  Each jot and tittle was chosen by god and carefully preserved through time.  The bible was not just the inspired word of god in a general way; it was a magic book.  Somehow, all the right words were put into a canon of scripture.  The process was a human process in appearance only.  Behind the scenes, god was working it all out just the way he wanted it.

I was not only convinced of the infallibility of the bible, but also of the infallibility of my understanding of the bible.  My denomination was not merely some organization created by men.  Rather, it was the one, true outpost of the kingdom of god in this world.  Only those who believed as I did were a part of the eternal kingdom and bound for heaven.  Everyone else was merely a vessel of destruction good only for hell’s kindling.

We had very particular beliefs and understandings about what the bible had to say.  We thought that there was a biblical answer to every conceivable question.  No matter how pedestrian the inquiry, the bible had something to say about it.  There was only one right answer to any question.  Choosing the wrong answer put you outside the fellowship.  We always taught doctrine in one, clear, unified voice.  We were always of the same mind and the same judgement.

Except, we weren’t.

We disagreed about many things.  Not only did we disagree, we divided.  We would spit congregations over issues such as whether there should be a kitchen in the church building.  I personally caused more scandal over leading songs without wearing a tie than I care to recall.  Should women wear hats at all times in the assembly?  Be careful how you answer.  The wrong answer could send you straight to hell.

I was in my late teens when I realized that something was badly wrong with my denomination.  Not long after that, I realized that there was also something badly wrong with me.  I was starting to seriously question some of the issues that my church took for granted.  I gave everything a second look.  By my early twenties, I became convinced that the church of Christ position on instrumental music in worship was just plain wrong.

That may not seem like a major issue to you.  But to me, instrumental music was a salvific issue.  Actually, everything was a salvific issue.  The fact that I had been wrong about that my whole life was a discovery that rocked my world.  I never recovered from it.  I could never again honestly consider myself a member of the mainline church of Christ.  Had I made that public, that would have been tantamount to revoking my membership in the kingdom of heaven.

It didn’t take long before the entire doctrinal house of cards that I inherited came tumbling down.  If we were wrong about that, then we could be wrong about anything.  If we could be wrong about anything, then we could be wrong about everything.  I soon came to the conclusion that we, in fact, were wrong about almost everything.  I still hung on to my respect for scripture.  My belief that we were wrong did not come from a casual disregard of the word.  Rather, it came from a careful study of the word.  Our own bible had condemned us.

It would be some time before I started questioning the authority and accuracy of scripture.  When I did, I was faced with some nagging questions that just would not go away.  Why does the bible appear to contradict itself in numerous places?  Why does one writer seem to teach different things in different places?  Why does the new testament seem to teach a different moral law than the old?  Who really wrote the book of Hebrews?  How, exactly, did we end up with the sixty-six books of the canon?  Where are the original documents of the bible?  They don’t exist?  How, then, can we be certain we have made all the right guesses?  If the evidence shows that some of the books of the bible were written pseudonymously, should we stop using them?  Once the floodgates were opened, there was nothing to stop the torrent of questions.  Worse yet, we didn’t seem to have any answers other than the stock “Shut up, kid!”

I did eventually shut up, but I didn’t stop searching for answers.  Truth was more important to me than faith.  The more truth I found, the less faith I had.  I learned to distrust the religious establishment, as all perspectives coming from that quarter were biased.  I also found all other perspectives to be hopelessly biased as well.  It seemed that very few people were actually concerned with the truth.  They were more interested in selling books and maintaining their power bases.  There were few people who were willing to embrace an inconvenient truth.  For a long time, I wasn’t either.

Now, I find myself near the end of a long and arduous faith journey.  At the end of this journey, I find that I am at the end of my faith.  I am angry and bitter.  I have been lied to for my whole life by people, most of whom, had the best of intentions.  I don’t know if they were wrong about everything, but they were certainly wrong about a lot of things.  They were wrong about enough things so that I consider all the voices of my past completely lacking in credibility.  I will never again be the victim of someone else’s faith.

I will only accept the answers that I can understand and figure out for myself.  I am a voracious reader with above average intelligence and a heart and passion for the truth wherever it leads.  If the designer/creator of this universe wrote a book that gives me definitive instructions on how to live my life, then he did a poor job of transmitting the information.  There is nothing magical about the bible, or any other holy book I have encountered.  God has the power to make himself known.  Let him do so and I will believe.  He supposedly did it for others; he can do it for me.

Till then, I will maintain my belief in a powerful being who is the first mover in our universe.  All of nature seems to proclaim such a being exists, or existed.  Religion, however, is another matter entirely.  It seems that religion is man’s attempt to understand more about the first mover than he has chosen to reveal of himself.  Religion also has been used as a tool to control and manipulate other people.  Nothing in nature demands religion.  No special revelation has convinced me of its veracity.  If there be a sacred call to religious piety, I have not heard it.  I reject your religion and replace it with none of my own.

Instead, I will take what has been clearly revealed to me of life, love, and liberty.  There is information about morality and goodness written in the heart of every human being.  We sometimes disagree on the details, but by and large, we agree on the major issues.  When a society goes too far off the path of general revelation, the rest of the world eventually steps in to correct the situation.

I believe in good and evil, but not as substances or ideas or personifications apart from humanity.  I have no reason to believe that there is a moral god that is actively working to bring about good in this world.  If there is such a god, he is failing miserably.  I do not believe in eternal life in a new heaven and a new earth where everything comes up roses.  If god could not create free will beings that would not choose sin this time, what makes me think he can do any better the next time?  No, it is time to put myth and monsters to bed once and for all.

There is one book of the bible that I find useful and full of practical wisdom.  It is the book of Ecclesiastes.  It declares that this life is all there is.  Ultimately, all is vanity.  Enjoy the wife of your youth, eat good food, drink good wine, live life to the fullest without worrying over much about things beyond our knowledge or control.  This is my creed.

I do not seek to change your mind or convert you to my way of thinking.  Religion is largely a benign drug.  It can even have positive side effects.  If you find comfort in the myth of a loving god who walks with you in your struggles, then be comforted.  If stories of hell fire scare you straight, then all the better for society.  If Jesus’ message of loving your neighbor is the only thing that makes you take notice of the needy, then I’m all for it.

As for me, I have heard enough bedtime stories to last a lifetime.  I do not need a loving god to walk with me through my struggles.  I need a god who will protect me from the forces that cause my struggles.  I do not need a hell to scare me straight.  The IRS is sufficient for that task.  I know exactly who my neighbor is.  If god wanted to take care of them, he would not be relying on someone like me for the job.  I am without power or resources.  He holds the whole world in his hands and orders the events of our lives.  I will do my part as a human being, but I refuse to try and do his job.

I do not require any sacred, magic books to tell me how to live my life to the fullest.  I have seen the results of those who try and live their lives according to sacred books.  They start wars or are the victim of wars.  They oppress the helpless or are themselves oppressed.  They try to control the lives and choices of others when they cannot even control their own lives or make good choices.  They have just as much divorce and family issues.  They are just as addicted to the poisons of this world.  They are just as greedy for money, sex, and power as anyone else.  I find no magic in the magic book.  I find only men and women doing their best to figure out the unknown and living their lives the best way they can.

Finally, it should be said that I am not closed to new discoveries.  I embrace new knowledge.  I crave it.  If the god of the bible exists and I have misread him, I humbly apologize for my misapprehension.  I boldly invite him to make himself known in a way that I can understand.

I do believe there is a god.  I see no evidence of any continuing activity by god that suggests he is interested in a personal and loving relationship with his creation.  I see no clear instructions for life other than that which one might call general revelation.  Perhaps a road to Damascus experience is somewhere in my future.  If so, I will shout it from the mountain tops.  Until then, I look forward to seeing what life is like for me without Jehovah, Yahweh, Elohim.  Somehow I suspect that nothing will change.  It is hard to notice the absence of that which was never there.

Sins of the Father Chapter Nine

Chapter Nine

 

Messiah

 

 

 

The New Testament

 

When we think of the new testament, we often think of the last 27 books of the bible.  That is a mistake as the division in the testaments is a device of men, not of god.  The first century Christian never conceived of an old testament and a new testament.  For them, all sacred writings were nothing more or less than scripture.  Why then, do we make this artificial distinction in sacred scripture?

The reason is both obvious and curious.  We make a distinction in scripture because of the point at the division, something new was happening.  By the time Jesus came onto the scene, it was not your father’s Judaism.  They had fallen considerably in the eyes of the world, and in their own eyes as well.  It had been a very long time since anyone thought of them as a superpower.  When is the last time anyone thought of Turkey, or Greece, or Italy as a world beating superpower?  Whatever answer you come up with, it had been longer than that since the Jewish glory days.  Once, they were like the modern day America.  They sunk to something like a modern day African state.  They were not even worth spitting on.

They did not just slowly decline from greatness.  They were ruthlessly beaten down by every powerful nation within reach.  They were forced into a type of slavery that rivaled the Egyptian captivity.  It may have been even worse.  They were systematically stripped of every vestige of identity.  At times, they had lost their collective memory of who they once were.

That sort of domination does bad things to the one being dominated.  We have seen a bit of what that is like in our own American history.  When we took slaves from Africa, we did not just capture them and force them to work.  We stripped them of everything that identified them as a people.  We destroyed their family groups.  We took away their languages.  We abolished their religion.  To make matters worse, we were not interested in replacing it with something better.  We raped their women.  We had brutal overseers beat them into submission.  We forbad them the privilege of learning to read and write.  We would not allow them to own property.  It was a very dark time for the American slave.

Some who conquered Israel did so with a genocidal fervor.  They set out, not to kill the people, but to obliterate the culture.  They did a pretty good job of it.  Perhaps some of the hatred leveled at the Jews was due to the Jewish attitude of superiority over the rest of the world.  The Jews were convinced that they were greater than all others because their god was greater than all other gods.  They took much joy in rubbing that fact in the face of a lot of people.  Nations were eager to show the Jews that their god was not as powerful as they believed.  This point was proven so thoroughly and for so long that even the Jews believed it.  There were only a handful that kept the faith.  As a nation, Israel was beaten to a pulp and left for dead.

This is why Judaism looked so different in Jesus day than it did in David’s time.  The Jews had forgotten who they were and absorbed the traditions and cultures of their conquerors.  We can get a glimpse of what the change must have looked like.  The American black is nothing like the African black.  They live in two different worlds and have very different world views.  The American black knows virtually nothing about Africa, from which their ancestors came.  They speak the language of their captors.  They have the values of their captors.  They practice the religion of their captors.  They marry the women of their captors.  That is the sort of makeover the Jews had gone through.

Suddenly you see things in the gospel accounts that were foreign to the ancient Jews: things they seemed to accept without question.  We see the synagogue appear out of nowhere.  Money changing was a requirement to pay temple taxes.  The Jewish hierarchy was subject to Rome.  There were multiple denominations of Judaism.  As an average Jew, it was impossible to know who to listen to.  They had little idea of what orthodox Judaism was, let alone what teacher had the purist teaching.  It was a mess.

What remained from the glory days was the desire for justice.  They wanted their freedom.  They wanted their nation back.  They wanted to overthrow their enemies and reestablish the dominance of Israel.  They wanted god to show himself and fulfill his promises which the Jews saw as outstanding.

The trouble was figuring out exactly how god was going to fulfill his promises.  Different branches of Judaism had different ideas on the subject.  The bible gives us only one of those views, but in the real world, it was never quite so clear cut.  There were some that resonated with the message of Jesus.  There were plenty more that did not.  The Christian bible is rather self serving as it presents only the books and ideas that help tell one particular side of the story.  Even so, that is the story we have.  As Christians, to paraphrase a country song, that’s our story and we’re sticking to it.  What the Jews of the bible clamored for was a redeemer, a savior, a messiah.

There is still the question of what type of messiah they had in mind.  What did salvation look like for them?  From what did they want to be saved.  When answering that question, we will also discover the answer to another equally important question: when did they expect this salvation to take place.

The easiest question to answer is from what did they want to be saved.  You can rest assured that salvation was something very different for them than it is for us.  We might say that we want to be saved from the consequences of our sins.  Some might even want to be saved from the reality of sin in their lives and that which permeates the environment throughout the world.  For still others, salvation is just an assurance that they will not go to hell.  Yet others want to acquire the joys of heaven.

For most Christians, salvation is a two part proposition.  We somehow accept the offer of salvation from Jesus and in doing so, we are saved from that moment.  This initial stage of salvation, though, carries few tangible evidences of that salvation.  For most, their salvation is a matter of faith as they have no other way to prove it really happened.  As I have stated before, and probably will again, their lives are just as much a mess today as it was before they were saved.  Their marriage is still falling apart, their health is still declining, and their bank account balance is still shrinking.  Our enemies still have power over us and we are still helpless to fight back.  One might be tempted to ask, from what have we been saved?

The real salvation that brings an end to pain and sorrow and tears and toil does not actually happen until the second coming.  A Jew might be tempted to ask how many times does our messiah need to come?  Why do we even need a second coming?  It seems the first one didn’t get the job done.

For the Jews, salvation had only one meaning.  They wanted to be saved from oppression and suffering.  They did not have a nuanced view of sin.  For them, if you wanted to be free from the bonds of sin, you just had to stop sinning and make the proper atonement.  They would not have understood a dialogue about sin between two modern Christians.

For them, sin had tangible results.  Forgiveness meant that the consequences of sin would be lifted and they would have a fully restored relationship with god.  A fully restored relationship with god meant that they would prosper in a tangible way.  You could say that the Jewish gospel was the original prosperity gospel.  They did not serve god because they felt warm and fuzzy about him.  Most of the time, they were afraid of him.  They served god because he offered them tangible and immediate protection and prosperity in this life, not in some future life to come.  For them, that protection and prosperity was all wrapped up in the nation status of Israel.  In short, they wanted to be a superpower again.  At the very least, they wanted to stop being the world’s whipping boy.

Some Jews made it their mission in life to help make this dream a reality.  Some did it by forming terrorist cults and slitting the throats of their enemies one at a time.  In Jesus day, there was no military.  Terrorists were the closest thing to an army the Israelites had.  The terrorist method did not work.  There was no army, and there could be no military victory.  The Jesus sect found a way to declare victory without ever firing a shot.  That, in essence, is the story of the new testament.

 

 

To Manufactured Triumphs

 

In Star Trek the next generation, season 7, episode 4, “Take Me Out to the Holosuite,” Captain Sisko encounters his arch rival from the academy.  It is a Vulcan with far superior speed, strength, mental capability, etc.  The Vulcan brings his ship to the station for repairs.  While there, he challenges Sisko to a game of baseball, just to carry on the old rivalry and humiliate the captain further.

Sisko accepts the challenge and takes it all too seriously.  He whips his crew into shape for the big game.  The outcome of the game was as expected: a lopsided victory for the Vulcans.  Rather than being humiliated, Sisko and his crew rise above the petty rivalry by some good humored taunting and a manufactured, rhetorical victory.  It was a heartwarming story at a time in the characters’ lives when they could really use a victory.  There was no way to attain an actual victory on the scoreboard, so they did the next best thing.  They simply manufactured a victory.  It was one of the greatest manufactured victories of all time.  The greatest manufactured victory of all time goes, hands down, to the Christians.

Before taking a closer look at the manufactured triumph, let us look again at the victory the Jews had in mind.  Remember, they had been in captivity for longer than any of them could remember.  They could only imagine what it would be like to be a free, autonomous, and powerful state.  Their sacred stories told of such times.  They understood those stories to imply that the promise of a victorious state was an everlasting oath.

Also remember that they had not seen what they considered to be justice in a very long time.  Most of them had never experienced anything resembling fairness.  To them, justice had been too long delayed.  They were in despair that god may have completely forsaken them and left them for dead in the hands of their enemies.  They cried out for deliverance.  It was not a spiritualized sort of deliverance, but a tangible one.

It was much the same when the children of Israel were enslaved in the land of Egypt.  They were being tormented for reasons beyond their comprehension after a long period of prosperity in the land.  They suffered under the lash and cried out to god.  They were not asking for some type of spiritual solace.  They were asking for a literal deliverance.  They were looking for the same type of deliverance in Jesus’ day.

For the captive Jew, that deliverance would come in the form of a messiah.  Once again, this was not some over spiritualized concept.  A messiah was nothing more than a king with god’s blessing.  The term, anointed one, has to do with the ceremony of appointing a king.  Christ is just another word for messiah.  It was not a particularly spiritual term and it was not specifically reserved for Jesus.

In fact, there were many messiahs.  Saul, David, and Solomon were all considered messiahs as they were anointed ones of god.  They were not god, they were simply god’s servant in the role of a king.  Son of god and son of man also did not refer to god.  Nor were they terms reserved exclusively for Jesus.  In fact, son of god most directly referred to the Davidic line of kings.  Son of man was also in use long before Jesus came on the scene, the point is, none of these were particularly spiritual terms.  They referred to special men appointed by god to fulfill a role.

References to Jesus as the son of god, son of man, and messiah, marked him out as one contending for the kingship of Israel.  That is the only thing messiah indicated to anyone who associated the term with Jesus.  As it had come to be used in his day, a messiah was a deliverer.  He would not be a peace time king like Solomon, rather, he would be a conqueror.  To be any other kind of messiah was to be no messiah at all.

Now, you can begin to understand why the Jews throughout history, have rejected Jesus as a messiah.  To them, he was no messiah.  He has not restored the throne of David in the heart of Jerusalem.  He raised no armies and overthrew no oppressors.  His followers did not grow prosperous or victorious in any tangible way.  Not only did Jesus not save Israel, he might be blamed, by some, for its destruction.  Things certainly got worse, not better.

In no tangible way did he fulfill the role of messiah.  Even if he did all of the legendary miracles ascribed to him, that would make him nothing more than a prophet, perhaps even a son of man, as they understood the term, but not a king.  In order to make Jesus into a messiah, he and his followers would have to redefine almost every word in the Jewish dictionary.  That is precisely what they did.

 

 

“Everything You Know Is Wrong”

 

Some years ago, there was a Weird Al Yankovic Song called “Everything You Know Is Wrong.”  Yankovic is a musical comedian who exchanges the words of popular songs for words with comedic value.  In this particular song, Yankovic evokes many dreamlike images.  The images conflict with each other.  In this song, contradictions abound.  Every aspect of the song represents one impossibility after another.

The chorus does not clear up any of the mysteries in the verses.  It emphatically states that…

 

“Everything you know is wrong.  Black is white, up is down and short is long, and everything you just thought was so important doesn’t matter.  Everything you know is wrong.  Just forget the words and sing along.  All you need to understand is everything you know is wrong.”

 

Surely, Yankovic never intended to write a gospel song.  Unwittingly, that is exactly what he did.  With the words of the chorus quoted above, Yankovic gave a clearer and more accurate summary of the gospel message of Jesus than any preacher I have ever heard.

Every aspect of the message and presentation of Jesus screamed to the people that everything they knew and expected and hoped for was wrong.  The meaning of traditional acts and common words was transformed into something different.  Jesus even made it clear that the teachers of the law, regardless of denomination, had everything exactly backward.  Consider the sermon on the mount.  It starts out with a bang and just gets better from there.

 

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.  God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.  God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.    God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.  God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.  God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.  God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.” (Matt 5:3-12 NLT-SE)

 

In these few sentences, Jesus redefines what it means to be blessed.  This was not the Mosaic view of blessing.  This is not a Davidic formula.  David would be praying that god smash out the brains of his enemies’ babies.  This is also not a prophetic formula.  Job would not recognize any of this as a blessing, nor would the wisdom writers.  No one in Jerusalem and in all the known world considered themselves blessed because they were persecuted.

Consider the people who are supposed to be happy and considered blessed by god in the Jesusic formula.  The poor, the sad, the humble, the unjustly treated, the merciful, the peacemakers, and the persecuted.  Under the suffering sinner, or the generational curse formulations, most of these people were in their condition because they were getting exactly what they deserved.  In these few verses, Jesus contradicted the Patriarchs, Moses, the kings, and the prophets.  That was only the beginning.

With his next breath, he tells them that they are not useless, but useful.  They are the salt of the earth.  More to the point, they were the light of the world.  A shining light should not be hidden under a bowl.  They were not to think of themselves as the shame of the world, but the light of the world.  The world would see their good works and glorify the father rather than laugh.

Next, Jesus informs them of his commitment to the law.  It is the most important thing to Jesus.  It is his purpose to see it fulfilled.  He makes it clear that whoever breaks, or teaches someone to break the smallest of laws will be least in the sight of god.  It is at this point in his speech where he begins to redefine much of what people understood to be the law.

Thou shall not kill became thou shall not hate.  Thou shall not commit adultery became thou shall not lust.  Disagreements were to be settled out of court.  Divorce which was regulated under the law of Moses was strictly forbidden with few exceptions.  Swearing solemn oaths was no longer allowed.  The old ideas about justice such as an eye for an eye, also regulated by the law, was now wrong.  There should be no retaliation or seeking legal recourse for being wronged by another.  Now, if someone steals from you, you should give them even more.  If someone hits you, make yourself an easier target for the next blow.  Jesus is just getting warmed up.

 

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matt 5:43-48 NLT-SE)

 

Which part of the law did Jesus get that from?  Be perfect?  Really?  He goes on to tell them that they are giving incorrectly and praying incorrectly.  Then, he drops another bombshell.  He tells them that the way to have their sins forgiven is by forgiving others.  He emphasizes this by saying that if they do not forgive others, they, themselves will not be forgiven.  There is no such doctrine of forgiveness in the law.  Back then, god was into smiting the enemies of his people, and his people were looking forward to it.

After telling them that they were fasting incorrectly, he dropped yet another bomb.

 

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” (Matt 6:19-21 NLT-SE)

 

In this passage, Jesus redefines what it means to have treasure.  Storing up earthly treasure was the goal.  That was, after all, the whole point of prosperity.  Jesus casts earthly wealth in a bad light.  What did that say about the ancients who were rewarded with earthly wealth?

Jesus when on in this manner throughout the rest of his ministry, redefining what it meant to be a Jew in good standing, and what reward and expectation should be like in this brave new world.  The people were no longer poor, or hungry, or sick, or abused; they were blessed.  Their reward was waiting for them in the heavenly realm.  All they had to do to get it was to keep the law and be perfect as the father is perfect.  You may think you kept the law by casting out demons and doing good deeds, but you still may be sent away as a stranger to god.  Suffer well and bless the ones causing you to suffer.  Be satisfied, even happy with your lot in life.  Bear your unfair treatment quietly and be humble.  That is the new definition of victory.

The rest is history.

Jesus’ followers crowned him king even though he left the scene with promises to return with heavenly hosts.  The kingdom was invisible, not of this world.  The treasure was in the heavenly bank.  There was a mansion waiting for each faithful disciple.  The lord would take revenge in his own good time.  Consider persecution a badge of honor, in fact, it is a sign of righteousness.  Don’t try to save your life: that is the best way to lose it.  Don’t try to be first in line.  Give way to others; by doing so, you will be first.  Everything in the life of the Jew was recast so that it was no longer a bad thing, but a good thing.  They just had to hang on a little longer and their reward would be arriving soon.  That has been the line of the great religious hucksters for the last two thousand years.

Sins of the Father Chapter Three

Chapter Three

 

Kernels of Truth

 

 

 

Man Behind the Curtain

 

The man behind the curtain is an allusion to a plot point in the Wizard of Oz.  (Spoiler alert!)  As it turns out, there was no wizard.  There was only a little man using a complicated apparatus to create the illusion of a big voice and magical powers.  In other words, he was a fraud.  When his deception was uncovered and revealed for what it truly was, he used his phony, godlike voice to say, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

As it happened, the fake wizard did end up speaking a lot of truth.  That happened only after his fraud was exposed.  He stopped speaking as a wizard and started presenting himself as the mere man that he was.  Only then, did the adventurers find what they were seeking.

Such is the case with the bible

To get the most out of the bible and discover the nuggets of truth it holds, we must reveal the frauds and pay close attention to the men behind the curtain.  The call to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain is the same as calling for blind faith.  What the false wizard was really asking them to do was to have faith in spite of the evidence of their eyes to the contrary.

The purveyors of this fraud, I believe for the most part, are not doing it intentionally.  They, themselves, have completely bought into the fraud.  They have put on the blinders of faith and expect us to do the same.  They have conditioned us to ignore and reject out of hand anything that questions our foundational beliefs.  The bible, itself has built-in safeguards to keep the flock in line.

 

“For I say to every man to whose ears have come the words of this prophet’s book, If any man makes an addition to them, God will put on him the punishments which are in this book: And if any man takes away from the words of this book, God will take away from him his part in the tree of life and the holy town, even the things which are in this book” (Rev 22:18-19 BBE)

 

“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, were to be a preacher to you of good news other than that which we have given you, let there be a curse on him. As we have said before, so say I now again, If any man is a preacher to you of any good news other than that which has been given to you, let there be a curse on him” (Gal 1:8-10 BBE)

 

“I am conscious that after I am gone, evil wolves will come in among you, doing damage to the flock; And from among yourselves will come men who will give wrong teaching, turning away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-31 BBE)

 

There are many others but these are sufficient.  One of the greatest dangers for the Christian is to listen to a dissenting voice.  Paul was so concerned that others would come in after him and teach something different that he even warns the people not to listen to an angel from heaven.  There are actually Christians that would unceremoniously turn away an angel from heaven because he said something different from Paul’s teaching.  God would be wasting his time by coming down to earth to set the record straight because brainwashed Christians wouldn’t listen to him.

Who wants to run the risk of having plagues of the bible added to them, or having their future reward taken away?  Who wants to be labeled as a wolf among the sheep?  Preachers fresh out of seminary must be very careful about what they teach because anything that sounds like a new teaching could get them labeled as a false teacher.  A word to the wise for new preachers, if the congregation will not listen to an angel from heaven, they most certainly will not listen to you.

To make matters worse, there is a bias against anyone who might know enough to challenge the status quo.  Scientists are fools.  Philosophers know only the wisdom of man.  Doctors trust only medicine, not god.  According to Jesus and James, the poor are the righteous ones while the rich are the oppressors.  According to Paul, an intellect, intellectuals could not understand the truth as well as simple people can.  If someone raises a question that is too difficult to answer…

 

“But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes.” (2Tim 2:23 KJVS)

 

And when confronted with facts that we can no longer avoid and cannot see any way to deal with them that does not compromise our faith, we are to hold on to our faith because…

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.  By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” (Heb 11:1-3 NIV)

 

I grew up somewhat contemptuous of college and college educated people because of all the lies they would try to teach me.  They would tell me that the universe was not created in the exact manner described in Genesis 1.  They would tell me lies about the bible and try to destroy my faith because they themselves had no faith and didn’t want anyone else to have any either.  They were foolish and I was wise.  What did I need them for?

I was the model of faith.  My feet were planted firmly on a rock.  I could not be moved.  Whenever anyone tried to expose the man behind the curtain, I paid no attention.  I squeezed my eyes and ears shut, clicked my heels three times, and I was safely back in my own little world where nothing could shake my faith.

Eventually, I started noticing the man behind the curtain more often.  I would only glance at him from the corner of my eye.  It was many years before I drew the courage to look at him square on.  Now, I see him for what he is, and there is no unseeing him.

 

 

Beyond the Curtain

 

When the dog in the Wizard of Oz exposed the fraud, the adventurers were quite shocked at what they found beyond the curtain.  They did not find the workings of a god.  They found the apparatus of a man.  To be sure, it was an impressive apparatus.  Still, it was only a machine, not magic.  When we pull back the bible’s curtain, what will we see?

We will see lot’s of men and their apparatus.

We will see men like Luther and Calvin who spent their lives trying to explain the message of the bible.  These men were not inspired or directed by god, at least not to their knowledge.  They were mere men who acted as men by the authority of men.  They worked tirelessly on behalf of their god, but not by direct marching orders from their god.  They, and men like them had to figure out what the bible was trying to say, then pass that information on to other men.  They were sometimes wrong.  That does not mean that they had nothing valuable to say.

We will see men like Marcion, Irenaeus, and Eusebius.  These were men who worked tirelessly to establish a set of texts and codify them as scripture.  They had no commission from god to do this work.  Yet they had a passion, and believed it necessary for the establishment of orthodoxy, for all believers to be on the same page, as it were.

For centuries after the time of Jesus, no one had a compilation of scripture that was just like any other person’s compilation.  There were many writings read in the early church that did not make it into the canon centuries later.  There were other books that were rejected by the early church that, after a few centuries, did finally make it in.  The men who were instrumental in establishing the canon all had theological axes to grind.  Naturally, they chose writings that favored their position while excluding those that didn’t.

These men were not inspired or directed by god in any way.  They worked tirelessly on behalf of their god, but not by direct marching orders from their god.  They, and men like them had to figure out what should and should not be considered scripture.  They were sometimes wrong.  That does not mean that they had nothing valuable to say.

We will see men like Erasmus, Estienne, and Hort.  These are men who devoted their lives to wading through the thousands of copies of manuscripts that make up the bible and trying to figure out what the original documents might have said.  This was, and is, no small task.  They had to read through hand-copied manuscripts made by people of varying degrees of skill and literacy.  Before the printing press, no two copies of the bible were exactly the same.  God’s holy and divine word did not just drop from the sky in pristine condition.  Nor was it preserved for all generations to read and adore.

Instead, it required men who were wealthy and inclined to spend that wealth on bringing some order to badly corrupted texts.  These men were not inspired or directed by god in any way.  They worked tirelessly on behalf of their god, but not by direct marching orders from their god.  They, and men like them had to figure out what words were inspired and which were errors of men.  They were sometimes wrong.  That does not mean that they had nothing valuable to say.

We will see men like Jenner, Blahoslav, and Williamson.  These are just a few of the men who devoted their lives to providing us with an accurate translation of the bible in the native language of people around the world.

What would the Dakota Indians do without a bible they could understand?  What of the Romanians, the Turks, the Brazilians, the Mexicans, the Cambodians, the Zulus?  How could they learn of the Judaeo–Christian god and his ordinances?  For that matter, what of the English speaking world?  What of you?  It required men with the vision and passion for providing the bible in the language of every tribe and nation.

These men were not inspired or directed by god in any way.  They worked tirelessly on behalf of their god, but not by direct marching orders from their god.  They, and men like them had to figure out what words to use so that men of every tongue could know the words of the lord.  They were sometimes wrong.  That does not mean that they had nothing valuable to say.

We will see men like Ambrose, Athanasius, and Clement.  These were a few of the men who gave us the important doctrines of the faith.  For centuries, the church went without formalized statements and formulas for important doctrines.  People were forming beliefs about doctrinal matters without the guidance and sanction of the church.  This was and is a formula for chaos.

Enter the church fathers who codified doctrines such as the trinity, the dual nature of Jesus as fully god and fully human, the sacraments of the church, purgatory, ecclesiology, and pretty much everything else that was not exactly spelled out in scripture.

These men were not inspired or directed by god in any way.  They worked tirelessly on behalf of their god, but not by direct marching orders from their god.  They, and men like them had to figure out which teachings were orthodox and which were heresy.  They were sometimes wrong.  That does not mean that they had nothing valuable to say.

We see men like the patriarchs, prophets and apostles.  What are we to make of them?

 

 

Jehovah’s Witnesses

 

Who are the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles?  They are the holy men of the bible.  Their stories and legends make up the foundation of the Jewish and Christian faith.  When you speak of Moses, Isaiah, and Peter, you are talking about god.  For the Jews, if Moses said it, god said it.  Later, the words of the prophets gained the same sacred status.  For the Christian, it is blasphemy to suggest that the apostle Paul was wrong about something he taught or believed.  It would be the same as saying that god was wrong.

In a way, all of these men are priests.  A priest is a human intermediary between man and god.  All religions require the devotees of the faith to go through some man to get to god.  If one could go directly to god without an intermediary, then it would not be a religion.  The very fact that there is a religion replete with doctrines and boundaries means that someone has to define it and present it to the people.

That sounds a lot like the job description of a prophet.  A prophet is essentially the voice of god spoken through a human vessel.  Priests enable access to god by men.  Prophets allow access to men by god.  In the end, they are both the same.  You cannot worship god without doing certain things.  For most religions those things must be done or blessed by god’s human representatives.  You cannot know what to do to please god if god does not tell you.  Since he does not speak directly to you, you must get your information second hand from a prophet.

Even the Christian does not have direct access to god as we claim.  We have to hire clergymen to deliver and interpret gods laws.  These clergymen deliver the sacraments such as marriage, baptism, and communion.  We are just as dependent on holy men as any other religion.  Just do a casual search for church budgets on Google.  You will find that regardless of the size and geographic location of the church, the clergyman is the number one expense.  This is true across all demographics.  There is little wonder tithing is one of the favorite subjects of preachers.

The holy men of the bible were even more important than the holy men of today.  Their words and actions were considered to be inspired by god.  As such, what they did and said is sacred, authoritative, and binding.  Even their mistakes are covered under the aegis of sacred infallibility.  Rather than look at an obvious error and conclude that it was an obvious human error, we conduct rigorous mental gymnastics to reframe the error so that it is no longer an error.

I have read countless examples of biblical errors, inconsistencies, discrepancies, disharmonies, and mistakes, along with the accompanying tortured explanations as to why those examples are nothing more than a misunderstanding of god’s superior wisdom.  I have learned that it is possible to harmonize any biblical discrepancy.  All you need is a predisposition to the notion that biblical holy men can never be wrong.  All you need is faith.

The problem with the reliance on holy men is it gives them too much power.  A person who convinces others that he is god’s representative can define religion for his generation.  Better yet, if a person invents a holy man, that person can define religion by crediting it to the legendary holy man.  That way one can define religion without suffering the martyr’s death.

So what of the holy men of the bible.  In the next chapter, we will turn our attention to discovering more about them and the books that were written in their name.

 

 

Conclusion

 

There is much more to say about the problems with the bible.  I will say some of it in the following chapters.  There are many books and articles on the subject and I highly recommend you read them.  They will go into much more detail than what I have briefly touched on here.

My goal in these last three chapters is not to get you to throw away your bibles never to read them again.  Rather, I want you to understand that which you read.  The bible is not a magic book.  It was not written by god.  It was not assembled by god.  It was not edited by god.  It was not translated by god.  The original words were not even preserved by god.  You believe that it was still, in some way, inspired by god simply because it says so.  When it said that, it was not even referring to much of what we think of as the bible today.  Also, there is a good chance that the very passage in question was a forgery, not at all written by anyone we think of as inspired.

To get the most out of the bible, we have to throw off the idea of it being some sort of magic book.  It was written by a variety of people from a variety of places over a large amount of time.  We cannot begin to understand it without some serious dedication to scholarship.  That is not to say that it is not worth it to put in the scholastic effort.  It is.  There are fascinating stories that give us insight into how some of the ancient people tried to understand and relate to god.  Some of their struggles and solutions can surely serve to inform us today.

As for claims of its supernatural origins, it is not unique.  All religions that have holy books claim similar supernatural origins.  A holy book with holy men that does not claim to be from god is not worth reading.  However, I, and most of you do not believe in other holy books that claim to be from god.  Why not?  They all speak of miraculous events to verify their authenticity.  What sets the bible apart from all the others.  I guarantee that the vast majority of Christians cannot answer that question without an appeal to faith.  Well that is no longer good enough for me.  Everyone has faith in their holy book.  We have to have more.

It is often said that the bible is the only book that is internally consistent.  Considering all the writers and places and time covered in the bible, a mere human book would contain mistakes.  Well, the bible does contain mistakes, and lots of them.  It is said that fulfilled prophecy proves the bible’s authenticity.  Prophecy is a slippery eel to catch.  I have learned that any prophecy can be shown to have been fulfilled with the proper interpretation.  The endless debates over eschatology are proof that even Christians do not agree on exactly what prophecy means.  I am convinced that much of what the prophets said had nothing to do with making predictions for the distant future.  Their concern was with the people of their own day.  Their message was contemporary, not futuristic.

Whither, then, is the evidence for the bible’s authenticity as a sacred book sent from heaven?  Remove faith from the equation, and there is none.  One might argue that the longevity and proliferation of the bible is evidence enough.  Others may point to the changed lives resulting from the adherence to its teachings.  Still others may point to anecdotal stories of miracles that they have experienced first hand.

All of these observations are valid if true.  But for me, they are not true.  There are other religions that are spread just as far and wide as Christianity.  Adherence to the teachings of the bible can have positive results.  But some teachings in the bible can result in just the opposite.  How many wars have been fought and people killed as a result of some group trying to follow the dictates of scripture.  As for changed lives, mine is no better than most atheists.  Bible believers seem to be just as likely to have divorce, drug addiction, and depression.  Talk of miracles all you like, I have yet to see or experience one that could only be an act of god as opposed to a natural occurrence.

Absent any tangible evidence that the bible is anything more than a book of manmade origin, all I can do is examine its message to see if there is some redeeming truth that survives the corruption of the human process.

Beyond Heaven & Hell Part 3

The Second Death

The Christian scriptures: Revelation, to be precise, four times describes hell as the second death.  How many deaths do we need?  How many times does god have to kill us before his justice is satisfied?  This sounds like a rhetorical question intended only to mock something that sounds silly, but there is more to it than that.

The bible opens with the story of Adam and Eve in the garden.  The implication is that they were intended to live forever.  That is presumed because the punishment they were threatened with was that if they ate from the wrong tree, they would surely die.  The punishment for sin, at least in the beginning, was death.  Count them: only ONE death.  There was no hell.  There was no second death.

The Ecclesiastes writer verifies this many times throughout the book in no uncertain terms:

I thought to myself,
“What happens to a fool will happen to me, too,
so what is the reward for being wise?”
I said to myself,
“Being wise is also useless.”
The wise person and the fool
will both die,
and no one will remember either one for long.
In the future, both will be forgotten.

I decided that God leaves it the way it is to test people and to show them they are just like animals.  The same thing happens to animals and to people; they both have the same breath, so they both die. People are no better off than the animals, because everything is useless. Both end up the same way; both came from dust and both will go back to dust.  Who can be sure that the human spirit goes up to God and that the spirit of an animal goes down into the ground?  So I saw that the best thing people can do is to enjoy their work, because that is all they have. No one can help another person see what will happen in the future.

A baby born dead is useless. It returns to darkness without even a name.  That baby never saw the sun and never knew anything, but it finds more rest than that man.  Even if he lives two thousand years, he doesn’t enjoy the good God gives him. Everyone is going to the same place.

This is something wrong that happens here on earth: What happens to one happens to all. So people’s minds are full of evil and foolish thoughts while they live. After that, they join the dead.  But anyone still alive has hope; even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!
   The living know they will die,
but the dead know nothing.
Dead people have no more reward,
and people forget them.
 After people are dead,
they can no longer love or hate or envy.
They will never again share
in what happens here on earth.

And for good measure, here is one from Job 7: another wisdom passage:

As a cloud disappears and is gone,
people go to the grave and never return.

These are just a few of the passages found in the Hebrew scriptures on eschatology.  We are like animals with the same spirit that shares the same fate.  The wise and the foolish have the same end.  Everyone goes to the same place.  Again and again, the message is given that once it’s over, it’s over.  The shadowy world of the grave was considered the final resting place for everyone.  There was no expectation of a later, bodily resurrection and life continuing on.  That was neither an expectation of the Torah or the wisdom literature of the Hebrew scriptures.  One life; one death.  That is how it was understood for the vast majority of the bible.  In the beginning, god offered death for sin.  It was only a singular death.  So who’s idea was the second death.?  When was it decided that one death just wasn’t enough?

A Punishment that Fits the Crime

There are many other problems with hell.  The most egregious seems to be the complete unfairness of it all.  It is not justice to over-punish for a crime.  A parking violation that drew a fine of a million dollars would be struck down in court for being unfair by any standard.  Everything about the mainstream understanding of hell is unjust.  It is a punishment that fits no crime any human is capable of committing.

Try to imagine the ultimate crime for a human.  Perhaps some crazy dictator gets his hands on a stockpile of nuclear weapons.  In one final act of insanity, he sets them all off, killing everyone on earth.  Many will die instantly, while others will die slow, horrible deaths.  What is the appropriate punishment for that person?  Let’s say it took a year for the last person on earth to die.  Is there any reason his punishment should go longer than a year?  Perhaps he suffered a day for every person he killed.  That is about 7 billion days.  Perhaps he suffers the same amount of torture he put everyone else through.  That is still a finite amount of torture.  At some point, that person will have paid his debt to the society he destroyed.  Even for that person, unspeakable torment for all eternity is far too much.

Now, consider the average occupant of hell.  These are not people who committed the ultimate crime by any stretch of the imagination at any point in their lives.  These are people who, at worst, committed a few acts of murder.  On average, they cheated on a spouse, lied on their taxes, shoplifted a scarf, was rude to an employee, cut in line, sold something for more than it was worth, gave a partial day’s work for a full day’s pay, in other words, for being human.  These are the crimes that if left unforgiven, will have a person screaming in torment for all eternity.

It gets worse!

Last time, I pointed out that getting into heaven had a lot to do with what you believe and the intensity in which you believe it.  Moral excellence is not enough.  The same type of thing is true for getting into hell.  One need not be morally impure to be cast into hell.  The person who lives a morally perfect life is as much a candidate for hell as the moral reprobate.  If getting into heaven is about what you believed, then getting into hell is about what you didn’t believe, or believed incorrectly.

I grew up in a denomination that believed everyone was going to hell who was not a member of that denomination.  They also thought anyone who worship with the accompaniment of a musical instrument was hell bound on that basis, alone.  But we need not use such extreme examples to make the point.  Let’s say a person believes all accepted, mainline, orthodox, Christian teachings with one exception.  That person just didn’t believe in the virgin birth.  She believes that Jesus was of purely human origin.  Mainstream Christians would condemn that person to hell on the basis of that one heresy.

What if a person did not believe in a literal devil, or hell?  Such disbelief is enough to qualify that person for eternal damnation in the hottest spot of hell.  The example from Matt. 7 that I gave in the previous post presents us with people who claim Jesus as lord, who do his will to the best of their understanding and ability, yet for something not even explained to them, they end up in the Hitler wing of hell.  That is not justice by any measure.

Another obvious reason hell cannot be just punishment is that hell represents infinite punishment for finite crimes.  No matter how much damage I decide to do, I am only one person running with scissors.  I can only cover a finite amount of space in a finite amount of time to do a finite amount of damage.  Once I am caught by the authorities, they will punish me for my crimes.  They may even execute me.  But for god, that death is not enough.  He will raise me from the dead so he can introduce me to the second death: the death that is not as much death as torture.  He will punish my finite crimes, infinitely.  No moment’s crime deserves to be punished eternally.

Finally, according to the Christian scriptures, hell was a placed designed for the devil and his angels.  I have three problems with this.  First, why does god need a torture chamber?  If he has rogue angels, why not just kill them?  I see no justification for a loving god to keep a sadist’s playpen.

Second, if hell was created for the devil and his angels, why aren’t they there?.  Why are they allowed to roam freely about the earth?  Why are they allowed to prey on innocent humans?  Are not the angels more powerful than the demons, and god more powerful than Satan?  If so, why haven’t they all been rounded up and thrown into the pit that was prepared for them?

Third, and finally, if hell was created for the devil and his angels, why would any human be cast into such a place?  If humans must be punished, why did not god prepare a place for wayward humans that would  provide a more appropriate punishment.  Humans are capable of doing some very bad things, but they are not demons, and should not be treated the same as demons.  Even humans have enough sensitivity not to put petty criminals in with violent felons.  We have different levels of punishment for different levels of crimes and different types of people depending on age and gender. The god of the bible is content to throw almost all humans into the place best suited for the devil and his angels.

I believe I have made a reasonable enough case for a Christian to at least reconsider his views on the literal existence of heaven and hell.  If you are convinced of the literal existence of these places, I would love to see in the comments why you are so sure you are bound for heaven, especially considering that the vast majority of people are bound for hell, and even those who think they are serving god may be hell-bound as well.  What mechanism do you use to insure your eternal destiny?

For me, heaven is an abstraction.  The real problem is hell.  There cannot exist both a loving, merciful, and fair god, as well as a literal hell.  To maintain logical consistency, you have to give up one or the other.  In truth, once you give up one, it only follows to give up the other.  If you give up your notion of god, there is no basis to continue believing in an afterlife of any kind.  If you give up on hell, then you have given up on the bible which teaches about hell.  In doing so, you also give up on the teachings of Jesus regarding hell.  You give up any confidence in the bible as a reliable witness.  Since everything we know about god a Christianity comes from the bible, you will also give up on god.

Hell is a problem that cannot be surgically removed from the Christian story.  It either exists with all the problems I have outlined, or it doesn’t, thus dragging down the credibility of everything else the bible has to say.  One of these days, I will do a comparative analysis of holy books.  It is interesting that most religious people accept one holy book as sacred truth, and all the others as blatant fiction.  Most could not explain why they accept one over the other, even though they share many similarities.

See you in the comments.

David Johnson

Quick Take

I will be posting a lot more of these short posts that contain a single thing that either just popped into my head and posted without much thought, or an event that set me off.  Feel free to criticize them.  Just know that these are not the same as my more carefully planned essays.

Today at church, someone was mentioning child abuse, and abusers.  I asked what she thought should be done with people who, for whatever reason, was an in curable, unredeemable recidivist.  Her answer notwithstanding, another person who had also suffered abuse, represented her Christianity by taking umbrage to the question and suggesting that everybody can be redeemed.  Indeed, she had forgiven her abuser, and by that very act of forgiveness had redeemed him and the whole situation.

The first problem with this response is that this person could only think in religious terms.  When I used the word, redeemed, I intended no religious connotation.  I meant it as a synonym for rehabilitated as a fully vested member of society.  The strident commenter immediately thought about salvation of a soul and personally moving beyond a traumatic event.  This is one of those cases where religion has ruined the language.

The bigger problem is that the respondent, thinking she was demonstrating her piety, mostly demonstrated a shortsighted type of narcissism.  My question had nothing to do with how an individual deals with abuse.  It frankly makes no difference to the bigger picture whether you forgive or not.  It may make a great deal of difference to you, personally, and how your life flows from that event, but that is a self-centered way of approaching the issue.  Necessary, but self-centered.

What the lady was not prepared to deal with was the fact that her personally forgiven felon is out on the streets and free to strike again.  She was so wrapped up in her own personal forgiveness, she did not consider all of the other potential victims of this attacker.  Again, religion trumped a rational discussion about a real problem.  From her perspective, god can cure anyone  of anything.  Therefore, we should have faith that god will redeem this person and change their criminal behavior.

It never once occurred to her that in the vast majority of instances, her god does not free drug addicts of their addiction, and even more seldom, change the behavior of a child molester.  Her god has no problem with chronic recidivism.  Yet reality does not shake the faith-based fantasy that the life of the molester will miraculously be fixed because she has used the power of forgiveness.  There was no point in arguing the point because religious fervor had already cut off the possibility of a rational discussion based on what really happens in the world.

We did have an opportunity to talk again and clear up any misunderstandings.  As for the person to whom my question was originally directed, her public answer was that she just had to have faith that everyone was redeemable or she wouldn’t have the stamina to go on.  Privately, she acknowledged that there are some people with problems that we simply cannot fix and she had no idea what we, as a society, should do with them.

This is just an example of how the application of religion makes progress with real-life issues more difficult to deal with.  Once you paint everything with a faith-based, magical gloss, you never have to deal with certain problems.  Perhaps, this is why America, a professed, Christian nation, has never dealt with certain problems.  Real problems can only be dealt with once we remove that magic gloss.

Dealing with real-world issues is just another reason why we have to move beyond religion.

David Johnson

Beyond Church Part 3

Here we are, the day after Easter Sunday, the busiest church day of the year, the most religious, Christian holiday of the year.  If you have Sunday best, to wear, this is the day to wear it.  The question that begs to be asked is, why?  Why do so many people flock to churches on Easter Sunday?  What is it that brings people to the temple; people who are not even religious, for the most part.  On that day, churches are attended by people who don’t even believe in god, and wouldn’t be caught dead in a church building at any other time, well, that is, besides when they are actually caught dead.  There is something about this day that draws people who are otherwise repelled by church.

It is not my intention to deconstruct Easter, at least, not in this post.  Rather, to acknowledge that there is something about the church experience that appeals to a large demographic of people, even to the nonreligious.  My intention is to figure out what that is, and suggest ways that those positive experiences can be enhanced by evolving them beyond church.  I don’t believe that the positive aspects of church have anything to do with religion as we have come to understand it.  What if we could make those positive aspects of church more accessible to more people year-round, rather than just one day a year?  I think we can.

Communitarian Morality

In my previous post, I decried the notion of seeking moral certainty in churches.  I have not changed my mind.  I equate moral certainty with absolute morality.  This kind of morality implies that there is an ultimate right and wrong that applies to all people in all places for all times.  For this to be the case, there has to be an ultimate arbiter of right and wrong who’s will and judgement is above all humanity.  I do not believe in the non-human arbiter of morality.  That means, for me, morality is something we have to work out among ourselves the best way we can.

That leads us to communitarian morality.  We may not be able to work out what is absolutely right and wrong for all people in all places for all times, but we can, and do work out what is right and wrong for particular communities of people in some places at certain times.  Churches like to believe they are dealing with matters of absolute morality.  But, in truth, they are only, ever dealing with matters of communitarian morality.  As an example, there are no churches in the South, today, that are teaching the appropriate manner of dealing with slaves.  Once upon a time, that was considered a matter of absolute morality.  It was only ever a collection of temporary, communitarian standards.  So it is with all laws that attempt to legislate morality.

I believe that a church can be a great place to gage the moral temperature of a community at any given time.  What is taught in a church about morality is often a reflection of what the community believes to be the highest moral calling of humanity.  This is not a bad gage as long as churches stay in touch with the reality of the times.  Churches become poor gages of communitarian morality when they become out of touch, and even opposed to modernity.  At that point, they become an obstacle to communitarian morality.  They become obsessed with the morality of a long-dead people from a different place at a time long past.  They become morality museums.  I try to avoid such churches at all costs.

Churches are not the only place where one can gage communitarian morality.  Such opportunities are all around us if we become sensitive to what we are looking at.  The local newspaper can give us great insight into what the community feels is acceptable versus unacceptable behavior.  Local school board meetings can be quite informative.  Getting to know one’s neighbors and getting involved with neighborhood programs will also give you a sense of communitarian morality.  All of these things are even better than a church for gaging communitarian morality because they gage the entire community, not just the subset that believes in faith-based reality.

The Ministry of Service

I believe that churches have the potential to be excellent conduits for the ministry of service.  Almost all churches teach a message of love and self-sacrifice for the sake of others.  They all seem to agree that those with resources should be about the business of making accommodations for those without.  One of my favorite passages in scripture is found in the first chapter of James.  It teaches that true religion is to help the widows and orphans in their time of need.  One of my favorite stories attributed to Jesus is the good Samaritan.  The idea of service is a part of Christian DNA.

Unfortunately, many churches have buried the service impulse under layers of meaningless doctrine.  For them, the word, “ministry” means to evangelize.  Saving souls that do not tangibly exist becomes more important than saving lives that do.  Serving physical needs becomes a cynical ploy for making a convert.  All churches take up a collection of money.  Once upon a time, all of the money collected was for the ministry of service.  Today, almost all of it goes to service the ministry.  Not all churches have fallen into this trap.  But the vast majority have budgets that show benevolence is a distant consideration to the real priority of institutional needs.

Seldom do church budgets reflect benevolence spending greater than 5%.  10% is considered excellent.  50% is almost unheard of.  For a true service organization, 50% would be considered a gross, mismanagement of funds.  Benevolence should not be measured in pennies on the dollar.  Rather, institutional costs should be measured in pennies on the dollar.

I like the fact that so many churches provide some form of aid to some people at some times.  But this can be done better by organizations that are true ministries of service by design.  It is better to tithe to the Red Cross, than to the average church, if helping others is what you are wanting to do.  Better yet, adopt or foster a child.  Help pay the medical expenses of someone without insurance.  There is no end of ways to participate in the ministry of service.  The impulse to serve is not a faith-based exclusive; it is basic humanity.  Religion is not required, and is often a hindrance.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Perhaps the best thing that churches provide is a social structure for the less socially adept.  For most of my life, my closest friends and associates have been members of the churches I have attended.  I hardly know how to develop friendships outside of the context of a church.  When I visit a church for the first time, people are making a concerted attempt to be nice to me, and try to get to know me.  They want me to like them.  They want to like me.  Now, my own cynicism understands that they want to grow their membership.  They want me to become a convert or new, paying member.  I have been on the welcoming committee, I get it.  Still, with little effort, you can usually find someone in a church with whom you legitimately bond.  I honestly can’t think of any organization better suited to instant society than a church.

The problem is that most churches require you to buy into their particular brand of theism for you to become a fully vested member in that society.  Church and theism kind of go hand in hand.  There are not many equivalent organizations for the non-theist.  This means that in order to enjoy the benefits of a ready-made social structure, one has to adopt, or feign faith-based theism.  A rare exception to this rule is Unitarian Universalism.  That has all of the society of a church without the faith-based requirements.  I wish there were more organizations that adopted this model.

Next time, I will write a post, or series of post about my experience with the Unitarian Universalist church.  It is nothing like what I expected.

David Johnson

Beyond Apathy

The time has come for me to get involved. I can no longer afford to care about issues from the comfort of my office chair, which is not really all that comfortable. I have had the opportunity to join up with a group called Faith in Action. Though it is not faith that I care to put in action, it is passion for a better world.
On Tuesday, May 8th, we will be involved in an action with a view towards ending the practice of macing students in public schools, which happens to be a big problem in Birmingham. The other action we hope to address is the practice of predatory lending. This happens in the form of payday, or title loan lending. These institutions prey upon the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society. The interest on these loans are upwards of 450%. We believe that Birmingham can do better.
It will do better!
Anyway. This post was mostly to encourage those sitting on the sidelines to find something you are passionate about and get involved.  I will periodically let you know how it is going.
David Johnson

Beyond Prejudice: Race (Part Four)

I closed my previous post by suggesting I would spend equal time discussing what blacks have to fear in America.  I changed my mind.  It would seem self-evident that historically, and presently, blacks have much to fear.  Since I used an example involving a neighborhood in my last post, I will provide on example to start this one.

A working class, black woman with two children and no husband, living from paycheck to paycheck, sees a mini van pull up to the house next door.  Filing out of the moving van is a white couple with two children.  The day before, a professional moving company stopped by to fill the house with furniture and boxes of personal belongings.  This is clearly a family of privilege.  Why are they moving into this neighborhood?  It is not a bad neighborhood, but it is old and neglected.  If it was not, most of the people living there wouldn’t be able to afford their mortgage and property taxes.

Now, a new class of people are moving in.  A word comes to mind that scares you to death: gentrification.  This was once a rich, white neighborhood forty years ago.  It was abandoned and left to ruin.  Now, they are coming back to retake the neighborhood.  Houses are being repaired, along with streets, sidewalks.  A tennis court is going in, as well as a park and plenty of green spaces.  It won’t be long before the property value rises so high, new working class families will not be able to moving in, and property taxes will expand to the point where current residents will have to move out.  Even what appears to be a positive change to the neighborhood can be cause for fear.

However, the same warning applies.  Not all caucasians are the same.  It was caucasians that enslaved blacks, true.  But, it was also caucasians that freed them, and lost much blood and life in the effort.  Not all whites are upper-middle class.  Some of the most impoverished people in America are white.  White people commit crimes and perform acts of valor.  As with blacks, it is impossible to tell much about the person based on race and ethnicity.  In America, anyway, a book cannot be judged by its cover.  People cannot be judged by the hue of their skin.

That makes life considerably more complicated.

Now, we have to evaluate people on the basis of their actual culture, not their presumed culture.  If skin color tells us nothing about the culture of a person, then we are forced to withhold judgement until actual signs of culture appear.  We also have to ask ourselves what constitutes culture, and which parts of our culture are worth defending at all costs.  I suspect most people have not done this type of evaluation.

In a church setting, music and preaching styles are the two biggest factors that define culture.  In a stayed, refined, high-church setting, all are welcome as long as they are willing to abide by the rules of the majority culture.  You should not walk into such a church expecting to transform the choir into something you saw in “Sister Act”.  You should probably keep your loud, vocal flourishes and exuberant “amens” to yourself if you want to fit in.  Your race has nothing to do with it.  Challenge the dominant culture and you can expect to be shown the door, or at least offered the cold shoulder.

Churches that manage to create some type of cultural fusion are the ones most likely to be multicultural.  I find that Charismatic churches do a pretty good job at this.  Unless churches are willing to bend a little on music and preaching styles, they will likely be, predominately, a single-race church. They value their culture over the fellowship of diversity.  I believe that when musical preference becomes more important than the fellowship of other human beings, the church has hopelessly lost its way.

Let me be clear.  Even by its own lights, such a church is no longer a bible-based institution.  It is merely a culture club for certain types of believers.  To be even more clear, to Hell with such institutions! Anyone who places minor cultural preferences above actual human beings has lost what it means to be both a church, and human.

 Unfortunately, this is the state of the Christian church in America. That is not to say that all churches suffer from this melees, but a startling number do.  We have elevated the God of preference to the height of idolatry! I have no room in my heart, nor politically correct words for idolaters!  
What people need to be asking themselves is, are my cultural markers important enough to warrant separation from the fellowship of other human beings. If not, then it’s time to start weaning yourself off of your cultural preferences that have reached the state of idolatry.  Race-based preferences are not just another form of idolatry, rather it’s a symptom of idolatry. It has nothing to do with race. It has to do with fear, mostly of cultural loss.
In order to overcome race-based prejudices, we need to redefine culture.  Culture should be about how we live up to our calling as humans.  Do we value education and curiosity about the way the world works?  Do we value the life and happiness of our neighbors around the corner and around the world?  Are we willing to share our surplus with those who have a deficit?  Can we pursue our own happiness while not hindering others from doing the same?  Can we see and appreciate the full humanity in a stranger, especially one less fortunate than ourselves?  These are the issues that define the culture of an intelligent species worthy of evolutionary advancement.  If the most important cultural markers for us are a persons preference for entertainment, dialect, and apparel, the meteor that crashes into the earth and ends all life as we know it can’t come soon enough.
David Johnson

Beyond Religious Prejudice: Part Two

For this post, let us build three tabernacles.  Or, if you prefer, let us construct three, imaginary, agrarian-based religions.  The first is an ultra-conservative group that believes their crops will not grow unless they sacrifice a newborn baby to the nearest volcano once a year.  These Volcanists have a low tolerance for any other group because the faithful practice of their religion is a matter of life and death.

Next, we have the Behaviorists who believe that crops do not need human sacrifice, as such.  What is required is for people to behave in a certain way.  Only then, will the god of corn and beans be appeased.  This is a much more mainline group.  They have little tolerance for the Volcanists, but even less for the third group.

That third group would be the naturalists.  They study agriculture from a more scientific basis, and have decided that the growth of crops requires neither the sacrifice of babies, nor the practice of good behavior.  They have observed that the ultra-conservative Volcanists still have poor growing seasons: about the same as everyone else.  They have also observed that in the Behaviorist group, crops grow just as well for people with notably bad behavior.  Instead, they believe that certain laws of nature have been set into motion, and it is up to us to figure out the best ways to apply them for producing good crops.  Naturally, these are the liberals of the bunch.

Each group has a strong prejudice against the other, even though, living in close proximity, they have to be cordial to one another.  They are all driven by fear, and thus, can never experience true fellowship with one another.  The conservatives scapegoat the other two groups because those groups are selfishly abstaining from the necessary infant sacrifice that is required for everyone to eat.  The liberals are deathly afraid of the conservatives because they believe that at any moment, the conservatives will come and steal the liberal’s newborns and toss them into volcanoes.  The mainline group is afraid of both sides.  They fear the extremism of the conservatives, but at least they respect it because, at least, the conservatives honor god and try to do his will the best they know how.  They fear, and sort of hate the naturalists because the mainliners believe that the liberals do not honor god, and believe that they can grow crops without the direct intervention of god.  The liberals respect neither extreme acts of religious faith, or piety.  They put their faith in their own ability to grow crops.  Not only will god punish everyone for the hubris of the Naturalists, but the Naturalists seem to repudiate everything the other two groups stand for.

Against this backdrop, we have the seeds of all manner of prejudice.  How could it not?

The conservatives believe in a god that cares more about proper religious observance than he does about human life.  The mainliner’s god cares only that you behave according to his will.  The god of the liberals has very little work to do, and demands almost nothing, having done the bulk of his work in the beginning.  The liberals tend to be a more intellectual group that considers the others superstitious and mentally lazy.  The conservatives believe the other two groups do not honor god, and rely on their own ability to do what only god can do.  For the conservatives, the arrogance of the other two groups is overwhelming.  The mainline group is caught in the middle, and clearly sees the flaws of everyone else.  They are the only ones who are levelheaded enough to understand the truth.  Everyone else is a mission field.

Now, let’s take those three groups and add about 41,000 other Christian denominations to the mix, all believing that they have the inside track on god and religion.  That is the current reality of our time.  Every one of us looks askance at the other, suspecting the other of some grave misunderstanding of god’s will, and causing the world to be a slightly worse place than it has to be.  Conservatives are still blaming killer tornados and tsunamis on sinful people who know not god, and therefore, get what they deserve, while liberals blame conservatives for not having enough respect for nature to study and treat it appropriately so that life can be more happily sustained by all.

You will notice that all of these prejudices begin with our understanding of god.  Is god a busy bee who is constantly flitting about doing this and fixing that?  Is he more or less at rest, acting on our behalf only when our behavior matches his ideals.  Finally, is god less personal and more of the engine that started the universe, but not the drivetrain that steers it?  (Sorry, I know nothing about cars).  Your ideas about god govern your religious prejudice towards other people.  In other, more inflammatory words, religion breeds prejudice.  In fact, I would argue that it is impossible for it to be any other way.

A big part of the reason for that is revelation.  If you believe that god revealed to you the words of life, then you are special.  Your knowledge is superior over everyone else’s.  God spoke to you, either through a clear reading of his word, the opening of doors, or a fire in the belly.  God told you exactly what he wants, and you become something like a prophet.  When someone else contradicts your clear revelation, they are challenging both you and your god.  Therefore, we have not only prejudice, but hostility towards people of other religions.  Other people range from being a little wrong about questionable matters, to hopelessly godless, and kindling for the eternal flame.

In the end, it is all driven by religious fear.  We fear that our city will be blown away by storm, or that our nation will suffer financially, or our understanding of god is wrong, and thus the understanding of ourselves.  We fear missing out on Heaven, or more likely, the inheritance of Hell.  We fear that if we are religiously wrong, we will lose our sense of self and be utterly at a loss of who we are and how we should live.  We fear that we have pursued a false path for our entire lives, and have been made fools of.  Religion has us so full of fear; it is a wonder that we can navigate the world without medicine cabinets full of anti-depressants and panic pills.  In fact, it seems we can’t.  Even ecumenical movements are a lot more fearful than they seem, showing no tolerance for the intolerant.  In such places, political conservatives are openly bashed.  They have a hard time feeling comfortable or welcome in such places.

I was invited to the house of a Unitarian who seemed to be an extremely nice person.  She confided in me that she can deal with any religious point of view, but she absolutely draws the line at political conservatives.  I have found this attitude to be common among religious liberals.

I believe we can do better.  I believe that conservatives and liberals can learn to get along because we all want our crops to grow.  What separates us is our god, our revelation, and the religion that we use to serve him.

Join me next time as I tackle racial and cultural prejudice.

David Johnson

Beyond Ego

A couple of weeks ago, I finished reading, “A New World” by Eckhart Tolle.  I wanted to internalize it for a bit.  And though this is still not a book review, it is most certainly inspired by the book, at least in part.

I have a problem with ego.  I don’t mean to say that mine is too big, though some would definitely say that.  My problem with ego is what to do with it, and how to think about it.  I am using the word to mean something like the self, or self-awareness.  I recognize the difficulty of a post like this because depending on one’s upbringing, the ego means different things to different people.

I come at the subject from a lifetime of religion.  So for me, ego is always a bad thing.  It is most definitely something to overcome and get beyond.  There is no greater power for evil than self.  All manner of sin begins with selfishness.  We go astray when trying to accomplish self-determination.  Only god can determine anything good for us.  It is not enough to love one another as ourselves; we must love one another greater than ourselves, learning to esteem others higher than ourselves.

The ultimate goal of a Christian is to die to one’s self.  Jesus taught us that to follow him, we must deny ourselves.  Part of how we do this is to put ourselves last.  To this day, I feel guilty going through a self-serve potluck ahead of someone else.  Not only are we not to live for ourselves, we are to completely die to ourselves.  The cases where “self” is used positively in the bible can be counted on one hand.  Based on a reading of the bible, especially the Christian scriptures, the biggest problem with ego is that we have one at all.

To be sure, I am certainly not advocating the other extreme.  I decry narcissism in all its forms.  I agree that problems arise when one thinks too highly of themselves.  But that, in and of itself is not the problem as much as it is, thinking to lowly of others.  Ego seems to be a zero-sum game.  I can only be defined as great if others are defined as less great.  A champion athlete is only a champion in the context of being better than the vast majority of her peers.  In every endeavor, for there to be winners, there also have to be losers.  Christianity tells us that we, the followers of Christ should think of ourselves as the losers.  I reject this notion.  I can no longer pretend this notion has any meaning in my life.  I believe it is just as wrong to project one’s self as the loser as it is to project others in that role.

I am convinced that having an ego is not a problem; it is human.  It is just another one of those human attributes Christianity attempts to repress as it tries to make us over into some other type of being.  In the same way that “self” is used as a negative concept in the bible, so too, is pride.  There are no positive mentions of pride in the bible.  Ironically, there is more than enough guilt and shame for everyone.  It seems perfectly in keeping with biblical doctrine that we have a healthy dose of shame, but there is no such thing as a healthy dose of pride.

This view of ego does not bring us any closer to equality than does narcissism.  If we live a life of meek humility before the rest of the world, than we are, in essence, saying that we are less than others.  This type of modesty, or false modesty, still creates inequality.  We just find ourselves on the short end of it.  Why would we want to do that?  Because of the notion that one day, god will lift us up.  Again, that is playing ego as a zero-sum game.  I will be less now so that I can be greater at a later time.  I do not know if my personal formulation of ego is possible.  But I will give a crack at playing philosopher.

I believe that a healthy ego is a mirror ego.  That is to say, we see ourselves not only as others, but also in others.  We should feel great pride in our accomplishments, and try our best to accomplish even more.  We should do this in the context of recognizing the accomplishments of others, and wishing their accomplishments to also expand.  Ego is not a zero-sum game.  You do not have to lose for me to win.  Well, actually, you do have to lose sometimes.  Playing a game to a draw is not my idea of fun.  But you do not have to lose more than me.  Two grandmasters of chess meet in a tournament.  One will ultimately win the tournament that day, but the championship changes hands often.  They are both great at what they do.  They shake hands at the end of the game as recognition of the greatness of the other.  That is healthy ego: mirror ego.

I am convinced that this type of ego has to spread throughout every course of life to enable the next leap in social evolution.  Naturally, religious ego must die.  We simply have to give up the notion that we have received a special revelation from god that others haven’t, or haven’t properly interpreted.  That type of ego is much closer to narcissism.  If god is talking to you and not to me, then you are better than me in immeasurable ways.  Denominationalism is the ultimate expression of religious egotism.

Beyond religion, we must also be willing to give up national ego.  That is the pride of place that says, “My country is better than yours!”  We must actually stop being proud to be an American and join the greater nation of humanity.  We must stop seeing ourselves as the new Jerusalem.  That is not to say that we should feel guilty for our wealth and power.  Rather, mirror ego sees Mexico in the same light, and uses that wealth and power to expand that pride to others.  We will know we made progress in this area when watching the Olympic games, we cheer for the best athlete, rather than the one who merely wears our colors.

We must give up ethnic egotism.  Black power is just the weaker, more pathetic version of white supremacy.  Neither moves the needle towards equality.  Mirror ego sees the differences in race and culture, and revels in the beauty of those differences.  Like the Borg of Star Trek, mirror ego hopes to assimilate those distinctives into itself, minus the violence.  We know that racial ego has died when we see a person of a different complexion and accent, and hope those characteristics can be seen and heard in our own grandchildren.

Ultimately, mirror ego does not see a multiplicity of individuals fighting for resources and power.  Rather, it recognizes only one ego: the universal ego: the self of which we are all a part.  When the words of John Donne find expression in our lives, then we will know the true meaning of mirror ego:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.

Consider this post an introduction to an upcoming series of posts: Beyond Prejudice.

David Johnson

Beyond Jesus: Proclamations

So what does it mean to be a Christian?  At the very least, it has to include following the teachings of the one we call the Christ.  But if that is the case, I do not currently know, nor have I ever met a Christian.  There are teachings attributed to Jesus that are universally ignored and even ridiculed.  Therefore, being a follower of Jesus, in practical terms, means that you get to pick and choose which of his teachings you will follow.  That is true of every human teacher who has ever lived.  If, however, you insist that you at least try to follow all of the teachings of Jesus, then I would like to introduce you to a small sampling you might want to reconsider:

  1. On marriage:  Why is it that the most respected religious authorities on marriage are those who are not.  Catholic priests, the apostle Paul, and Jesus.  Of the bunch, the teaching from Jesus is the most egregious.  The doctrine goes something like this: if you have been married before, divorced, and are now remarried, with few exceptions, you are to walk away from your current, happy home and resume the marriage with your original spouse.  This idea is so far away from any reality that we know, it could only come from an otherworldly being.  The teaching stems from a few verses in Matt. 5, and 19, as well as a few others.  The upshot is that divorce, with few exceptions, equates to adultery.  Remarriage is adultery in those situations because the first marriage is still in affect.  Being reconciled to your first spouse is the only way to fix it.

It gets even weirder.  When his disciples head his teaching on the matter, they were concerned that it was just better not to marry.  Jesus answered their concerns with the following:

Not everyone can accept this statement,” Jesus said. “Only those whom God helps.  Some are born as eunuchs, some have been made eunuchs by others, and some choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.

  1. Benevolence:  Do you think you’re a generous tipper?  Do you give beggars a few coins when you see them?  Do you tithe?  Well, you haven’t even gotten started.  When a particular rich man wanted to follow Jesus, he was told by Jesus to sell all he had and give the money to the poor.  I have heard every excuse for this teaching and they are all bankrupt.  Let’s just say you have a problem with money.  You are a little too attached to it, as we all are.  Good advice may be to become less attached to wealth, and focus more on rational philanthropy.  Jesus didn’t say that, or anything like that.  It was an all or nothing proposition for him.  He demanded his followers to divest themselves of worldly goods.

This is often dismissed as a special case with regard to this one man.  Not that it matters, but it wasn’t.  Jesus actually said it again to a broader audience.  (See Luke 12:33).  As a bonus, try the following from Luke 6:30

Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back.

  1. On anger:  Jesus had some interesting opinions about common, necessary, human emotions.  In Matthew 5, he clearly equates anger with murder.  He also suggests that certain, everyday insults might send you straight to Hell.  I find this ironic since the writer of the gospel of John places all kinds of insults in the mouth of Jesus when he was dealing with the Jewish leaders.  As for the anger, some translations limit it to anger without a cause, which still does not save the murder comparison from incomprehensibility.  Jesus was the one who got so angry at a fig tree; he hexed it and killed it.  The writer of the story noted that it was not the season for the tree to bear fruit.  That sounds a lot like anger without a cause to me.
  2. On lust:  Notice, I am only talking about lust, not sex.  According to Jesus, just a few verses later, he tells his audience that anyone who even looks on a woman with lust has already committed adultery.  If he just wants to leave the crowd scratching their heads, he could have stopped right there.  Instead he leaves them gouging out their eyes, and worse:

“You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’  But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

I could go on like this, but hopefully I have made my point.  If a person started advocating some of what Jesus taught today, they would be institutionalized.  I recognize that Jesus wasn’t talking to the people of this place and time.  He had 1st century, Jewish, Eastern sensibilities that do not mesh well with 21st century, Enlightened Christian, Western sensibilities.  Having done a little study of the sayings of Jesus, and the culture to which they were said, I have a hard time seeing how certain of his proclamations make sense in any time and place.

Making matters worse was his love of parables.  Often, he didn’t just say a thing that people could clearly understand and start applying to their lives.  He said many things in the form of short, fictional stories from which the hearer must extract the hidden message.  This type of thing may be acceptable in a literature or philosophy class.  It just doesn’t fly when accurately interpreting the message can make the difference in the resting place of your immortal soul.  Furthermore, the argument of reading through the lens of a different culture also does not fly.  After all, the bible was intended for all the people in all the world for all time, or so I’m told.  Therefore, it has to be written in a way that all people can grasp sans cultural stumbling blocks.

There are other aspects of the teachings of Jesus that give me pause.  It was Jesus who brought us the threat of Hell.  That does not come from the Old Testament prophets.  The teachings of Jesus are filled with the threat of Hell, not just death, for those who do not live up to his precepts.

In Jesus day, not only was it possible to send people into Hell, but it also worked the other way around.  Hell could enter into people.  We do not see demon possessions until Jesus walked the earth.  It seems he was quick to identify mental illness as demon possession.  Jesus brought us exorcisms when all he needed to give us was antidepressants.

At this point, I even sound like I’m nitpicking, and it would be easy to go on in this fashion for a long time.  Suffice it to say that whoever was responsible for the teachings attributed to Jesus was no god, and likely not a single man.  I think it was more of a teaching tradition than a particular teacher.  This tradition does not represent the best teachings ever given, and in some cases, they represent the worst.  It is also fair to say that there are some teachings in this tradition that I like very much, and try to make a part of my life.  There are plenty of sayings attributed to Jesus that are worth holding on to, but not all of them.  This is the same for all interesting teachers and philosophers of all ages.

The sayings of philosophers are like taking pictures on a photo safari.  Take as many as you can; keep only the best.  Most will not be worth developing.  But the ones that are…  pure treasure!

David Johnson

Beyond Jesus: the Myth Part 1

With a great deal of naiveté, I dive into this series with the expectation of keeping it to two parts: the myth and the teachings.  Yet, even I see the real possibility of this ballooning into six or seven parts.  Brevity has never been my strong suit. 🙂

I will break down the “myth section into four parts: prophecy, personage, power, and proclamations.

By way of introduction, I feel this may be my most controversial set of posts to date, so I thought they deserved a bit of explanation.  Many worship Jesus as the anointed of god, and at the same time, as if he was god incarnate.  This is a very unusual type of veneration that needs to be addressed.  His disciples call themselves Christians, after what they perceive his title to be.  They do not call themselves “Jesusites”.  I find this quite telling as even the people who do not believe he was god, but only a great teacher, still call him the Christ, and themselves Christians, as in followers of the Christ.  Jesusite would be much more appropriate, but is never used.  Clearly, there is something more going on than the veneration of a great teacher.

There have been many great teachers, but to my knowledge, few have a discipleship that religiously follows them as if the teacher was something more than a teacher.  No one drinks representations of the blood of Gandhi, or wears bullets as jewelry to honor the death of Martin Luther King.  We also easily recognize the common human flaws of all great teachers.  We do not pretend that they were the perfect archetype of humanity.  Sometimes, we even dare to disagree with some of the teachings by those we respect as great teachers.  None of these considerations are allowed when considering the teachings of Jesus.  He was the perfect being (whatever kind of being he was).  He knew everything that was important to know.  And he was never wrong about anything he did or proclaimed.

With such an understanding about the one we call Jesus, he cannot be studied, understood, questioned, or doubted.  He can only be worshiped.  Which of us would not be inclined to bow down to perfection personified?  Consider just a few of the things said of him:  No one ever suffered a death a gruesome as he did.  He was tempted in every conceivable way, and passed with flying colors.  He had only healthy relationships with women, never lusting or desiring sexual relations with one, or objectising them in any way.

He was wise meek, yet strong as an ox.  He loved everybody he ever met or might have met.  There was no sin found in him.  Jesus wasn’t even born in the normal fashion of men.  God personally inseminated his mother.  As such, he was born of a virgin who never knew the lust of a man.  Even the stars rearranged themselves to announce his birth.  Those who came to see him as a baby born of nondescript parents automatically knew him for the king he was and would become.

He was a child of prophecy.  Almost every part of the Hebrew scriptures proclaimed his arrival.  Everything that happened before him was but a shadow of his eventual life.  All of history points to Jesus, his birth or death being the historical dividing line, whichever you prefer.  He is the savior of the world, the door, the way, the truth, the life and light.  He is the only way to the father.  He is the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.

He did not die, as men die.  Rather, he freely gave his life as a gift to humanity, paying a debt we could never pay.  But death was only a brief detour.  He didn’t stay dead for very long.  Rather, he came back better than ever.  He taught many.  So compelling was his teachings that even the Roman soldiers had to acknowledge that never has a man spoke like this man.  He didn’t just rise from the dead as if it was a well-earned nap, but he ascended into Heaven with promised to come back soon with rewards for the faithful.

While he was with us, he caused the lame to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and the dead to be undead.  He calmed raging seas without effort and caused at least one fig tree to die just by telling it to.  For him, walking on water was no more difficult than levitating into the sky.  If he was not a god, then we have no need for gods.  These are just a small sampling of that which is attributed to Jesus.  It seems “myth” is a rather mild word for describing such a man.

Why is it so important to separate the myth from the man?  After all, history is full of myths about men.  Do the myths detract from the greatness of the men in question?  Was there really an Alexander the Great, and did he do all that was attributed to him?  Was there really a King Author?  Did Shakespeare write his plays?  Did George Washington cut down a cherry tree for no reason?  Were the Write brothers really the first to fly?  Was Benedict Arnold really a traitor?  The answer to all of these questions, and more, is who cares!  In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter because our lives are not formed around the truth or falsity of those particular myths.  No one worries that their immortal soul is at stake based on the conquests of Alexander the Great.

Jesus, on the other hand, is a most important myth.  If even some of the myths about him did not literally happen, then that changes the world for a great many people.  We can afford to get all kinds of details wrong about all kinds of heroes because the outcome simply does not matter.  Every detail about Jesus has attached to it, some fine point of doctrine.  If Jesus was not born of a virgin, then he is not Jesus the Christ.  If Jesus did not miraculously heal the sick, then we had best be spending a lot more money educating our kids in science and biology.  If Jesus did not live a perfect life, then perhaps we should abandon that unrealistic expectation in our own lives.

I should have known this couldn’t be done in two posts. 🙂

Next time, I will talk about the prophecy and personage of Jesus.

Stay tuned.

David Johnson