Sometime around 4004 BCE, god created a dude named Adam from the sand, and later, created a lady named Eve from his rib. Eve convinced Adam to violate god’s command by eating fruit from the tree of knowledge, thereby trading their life characterized by perfect ignorance for a little bit of understanding about how the world works. Later there was a global flood, a woman turned into a pillar of salt, and human life has sucked ever since…except for the few cases of divine intervention as described throughout the good book.
Fast forward 4000 years. The savior was a supposed descendant of fictional king David. David, who despite existing in the hearts and minds of Jews and Christians everywhere, is nowhere to be found in the actual historical record; his 14th generation grandson came along to fix everything. Jesus preached, cast out demons, threw in a metaphor or two, walked on water, and figured out some terrific ways to ration out very small amounts of bread and fish to feed thousands of people. He had his last supper, first described intimately in Corinthians by Paul, a guy who never actually met Jesus while he was alive, nor did he attend said supper. Jesus then solved everything for everyone by being staked into a wooden cross to satisfy one final sacrificial desire of the deity, his supernatural dad, whose favorite things include creating infinite universes, infinitesimal cells, and basking in the blood of human sacrifice; lest this broad range of concerns causes us some skepticism about our dear leader’s intentions, we can refer back to other scriptural clues that reveal a variety of interests, including male genital mutilation, the prerequisite that no one use his name in vain, an almost constant war thirst, and a weekly sabbath, which requires his people to ceremoniously praise him.
Lucky us, humans are now saved because of the crucifixion. Except life didn’t improve much for citizens in the Roman empire. In fact, life for Roman citizens worsened, culminating a few hundred years later in economic collapse, nearly 1000 years of scientific and social stagnation, and subjugation of the masses by a variety of oppressors, notably the organization tasked with preserving and perpetuating the story of the crucified savior.
That is Christianity in its most condensed and irreverent form; if there is a hell, I’m surely bound for it simply for my over-simplification and lack of reverence to the hallowed story.
There are all sorts of logical problems woven into the official narrative, and throughout my life, it has been hard to ignore them, even when I tried my best.
An artifact that one cannot disconnect when analyzing this story is that, if there is an all knowing being, free will could not possibly exist. It’s logically impossible. Since god knows all, then nothing happens that he didn’t know would happen; in that context, how could free will exist? Everything in this framework is pre-determined. When you take that to its next logical step, every bad thing that has ever happened – every rape, murder, infant death, and moral depravity was not only expected, but indeed planned, down to the minute detail, and this was exactly the known outcome from the moment god created the universe. Therefore, how could our existence be characterized by free will when god knew everything that would happen before it occurred?
How obscene it is that we should worship a god who not only stands idly by while the worst sort of things happen, but in this framework, must have planned every excruciating moment of these horrors via his omniscience? And since this god is all-knowing AND all-powerful, he watched and allowed these horrors despite his capacity to intervene.
Therefore, in my estimation, this all-knowing and all powerful god, by virtue of his guilt by association to these terrible crimes, is absent of goodness; I cannot imagine watching idly while an injustice unfolded, regardless of my ability to stop it. Further, if I was certain I could stop it, yet refused to, it would make me worse than the criminal committing the injustice. I would go so far as to say that no good being would allow the historical and present atrocities on earth to continue if they had the capacity to prevent it.
We can run away and hide in our comfy cave of ignorance, and pretend the reason for all these unspeakable crimes is because god has a plan we couldn’t possibly comprehend. If this problem existed in a vacuum, perhaps I wouldn’t have continued my exploration into the world of dissonance religion creates. But it doesn’t end there. It’s an abyss of logic violations and moral depravity.
If one takes a literal approach, then consider Adam and Eve. The most obvious violation of logic is raised because genetic and fossil evidence disproves Adam and Eve existed as described in Genesis. If Adam and Eve didn’t exist, then why do we have original sin? To reasonable practitioners, clearly, Adam and Eve is a fairy tale, right? The problem here is Christianity is built on top of the idea that fallen man needed a savior. But if there’s no original sin, then what do humans need saving from? From a god who is appeasing himself?
I spent years ignoring this problem.
Suppose we don’t take a literal approach; like many denominations such as the one to which I belonged (ELCA Lutheran), hardly any emphasis at all is put on the evils of the old testament, such as the rape and slavery described in Deuteronomy, the bears god summoned at the request of Elisha to murder 42 children in 2 Kings 24, commandments to kill witches, God’s murder of Job’s 10 kids, the tens of thousands of godly murders, such as described in Numbers 16:49…the list goes on.
In the cherry-picked world of liberal Christian denominations, the old testament is not a problem, because Jesus gave a new covenant. And even if one is disinclined to believe much of the Iron Age wisdom described in the new testament, a good Christian still believes Jesus came to take away our sins.
What sins? Who called actions, thoughts, and inclinations sins? Some of these diagnosed sins are as benign as thought crime – coveting thy neighbor’s wife and slave. We’re shackled by sin as described in the old testament, yet somehow we’re able to concoct a reality where the old testament, save for a couple lines in Exodus, should mean nothing to us; let’s not forget Jesus was a Jew, and would have been a strict adherent to rules of the old testament – not a single line of the new testament was written before Jesus died.
Apologists spend years working through this problem, fitting their lens to get these dissonant facts to work in some consistent manner – when you actually look at the words apologists like this use, it really is word salad, completely absent of consistent logic to which we subject every other topic in our life – Christianity is the ultimate special pleading.
To the moderate, god-fearing church member, religion requires no logical consistency. It simply provides a collection of incantations to recite to avoid the eternal fiery pits of hell; even in this context, hell is not a problem, because most people attend church occasionally, avoid too many mortal sins, and ask for forgiveness from time-to-time. Most people have no inclination to murder, right? That’s 1 mortal sin, right there!
And to the matter of an all-loving god creating hell? Or sending otherwise decent people there for trillions of years because they broke a rule once or twice (such as having an involuntary, covetous thought)? Well, let’s just not think about that…we’ll just allow this concern to silently haunt us for our entire lives, hoping and praying we’ve done enough so as to not anger the almighty (and all-loving).
Don’t forget, though, that this notion of hell was invented in the New Testament; in this context, the NT really is the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing, because with all its hippy-dippy talk of loving thy neighbor, it can’t manage to reconcile its extremely immoral invention of hell, nor does it recognize hell as a particularly existential problem for itself.
When I was a kid, maybe 13 years old, I proactively read the new testament. No one even made me do it – I was a curious kid, and I’d been told the bible had some answers. What strikes me now, as an adult, is how little a Lutheran adolescent needs to know to be confirmed. Looking back, it was sort of a cheap trick that was played on me, because even though I was more proactive than my compatriots in religion class, that doesn’t mean I understood the underlying theology or philosophy, but worse than that, most kids understood it less than I did, which is to say, hardly at all. But I digress.
In my reading of the NT, I might have skipped a book or two, but I was definitely concerned about reading the gospels and revelations, along with Paul’s greatest hits, like Romans and Corinthians.
I didn’t understand a lot of it, although it was clear Jesus was pretty damned motivated to cast demons out of people; it hadn’t occurred to me that those people might not have actually been afflicted with demons, nor did I have the wherewithal to recognize how incredibly dangerous it is to allow illiterate and uneducated people to harbor the idea that demons are real – that it causes people to kill albino children in Africa, and it compels holy men to stomp on pregnant women’s bellies to liberate her demons. For 13 year old Tim, the idea of supernatural infestations seemed plausible, and I accepted it without any pushback or critical thought whatsoever.
But I remember reading a passage from the book of Mark, and I remember looking at it for 5 or 10 minutes – just a small passage. I’d already read a different version of it in Matthew, but in Mark, it really made Jesus seem like a dick. It was Mark 7:28:
And He was saying to her, “Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
That was Jesus’ response to a non-Jewish woman who asked if Jesus would cure her daughter from demonic possession. It seems to indicate that Jesus thought the woman and her daughter were dogs, and that, even though Jesus was perfectly happy to travel from town-to-town casting demons out of everyone and their uncle, he couldn’t be bothered to help the little girl, who was at home in bed.
But then the woman grovelled a little, and Jesus relented.
Of course, Jesus was a Jew, and Jews would have certainly held an air of superiority over those godless gentiles who lived throughout the Roman empire at the time. I didn’t really understand the historical context at the time, and I eventually got past it, but I remember having this distinct feeling that Jesus was kind of a asshole to the woman, calling her daughter a dog, and indicating that every Jew should get priority over a non-Jew, regardless of their affliction.
The real dilemma that exists here is that Jesus’ curt response in Mark (which was a lot more sugar-coated in Matthew 15:21) is that the Mark text probably was Jesus’ real response to the woman (if the event happened at all), and the Matthew text was just a spin job to make Jesus sound less-dickish. Why? Matthew was written after Mark, maybe 15 years later, even though Matthew occurs before Mark in the New Testament, and reading Mark by itself really just makes Jesus look like an apocalyptic preacher talking about the end of times.
It’s interesting that Matthew comes before Mark in the New Testament. The purpose of this ordering is clear: to make it seem like this is a chronological representation of when the texts were written. But these books don’t occur in chronological order, and the reason for it becomes clear as you approach it with a more skeptical eye.
Stepping back from gospel inconsistencies (there are tons of them), one of the gross logical violations that occurred to me as I began to investigate the new testament was the problem of timing. Mark, which was the first of the synoptic gospels, was written as late as 70CE. This is more than 30 years after Jesus Christ died.
Aside: There was a movement in the 1930s called the Mass-Observation movement. The central tenet was that only through a profound collection of empirical data could we get deeper insights into how the world works. During this time, 2 of the founders of the Mass-Observation movement collected extensive diaries from practitioners of the movement; 30 years later, the founders reached out to surviving people who had originally given them their diaries, and this was their observation:
Memory plays fearful tricks…we wrote to the authors, asking them, without referring to anyone or any document, to tell the story again. Half a dozen obliged. Any resemblance between the original story and the version recounted 30 years later was almost entirely coincidental. They got everything wrong; time, place, sequence of events. In almost every case they moved themselves closer to the centre of events; what had happened to a neighbor now happened to them.
*Bozo Sapiens: Why to Err is Human. By Ellen Kaplan, Michael Kaplan
This is a pretty major circumstantial problem for Christianity. Mark, written by an anonymous author in a different language than the characters in the story spoke, decades after the events, is the equivalent of a collection of hundreds of post-it notes, and supposedly recounts accurately the events of Jesus’ life, even though it wasn’t even written until 30 years after Jesus died.
I’ve heard apologists claim that the corroboration of Mark in Matthew and Luke is proof of the events’ factual basis; of course, Matthew and Luke describe everything that was written in Mark, so the real likelihood here is that Matthew and Luke referenced the original Mark writings, along with some other common stories (perhaps even the elusive “Q” document).
If the human memory issue I mentioned with Mark is the proverbial coffin, then I think one of the nails is the fact that Bethlehem was never mentioned in Mark…nor was it mentioned in any of Paul’s earlier writings, around 50CE, 15-20 years before Mark.
Why does that matter? Bethlehem provides proof for would-be Christians familiar with the old testament that Jesus is the descendant of another fictional character, King David. God told David that his descendants would always be on the throne; the theological problem for Jewish conversion was that Jesus did not seem enough like a Davidian descendant, and so the spin that Matthew and Luke did more than a decade after Mark was to fill the David gap; isn’t it a lovely story of a poor Jewish boy born in Bethlehem 1000 years (14 generations, according to Matthew) after the so-called King David. It’s no wonder that the more robust Matthew comes before Mark in the New Testament, despite being written after Mark. The first thing Matthew discusses is Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.
Did Mark and Paul omit Bethlehem? Did they not know about it? Even if Mark did miss it, there’s still Jesus’ personification on earth, Paul. Paul wrote half the new testament. Yet, he never mentioned Bethlehem, either. The apologist might respond “Paul never even really met Jesus during his life, so how would Paul know where Jesus was born?”
I don’t mean to straw-man any potential antagonist here, but that’s a pretty bad response. It’s bad enough Paul never met Jesus while he was alive. It’s bad enough Paul wasn’t at the last supper that he described in Corinthians, where Jesus supposedly broke bread. But to miss such a crucial piece of the puzzle that would validate Jesus as the real descendant of King David and the fulfillment of the old testament prophesy is pretty detrimental to his case.
Early Christianity (1st century) would have been quite malleable anyway, considering the entire population of Christians during this time numbered around 7500 by the end of the first century. There was plenty of room for embellishment and revisions between the Pauline writings and the time the synoptic gospels were written. Jews and gentiles were the primary target of conversion during this time, although Jews were harder to convert than gentiles, probably because they were more educated and had a more rigid framework than gentiles.
Looking back to Paul, who probably died before Mark was written, and who did most of his work in the 20 years following Jesus Christ’s death, it’s interesting, I think, that in the desert, Paul saw a vision of Jesus and then went blind for 3 days. Today’s medical practitioners might be concerned that his ailment was less supernatural, and more along the lines of an aneurysm or stroke, perhaps heat stroke. I’m not a doctor, so I’ll digress on that, but it seems quite unlikely to me that Paul, the antsy proselytizer, truly saw a vision of Jesus before he went blind.
The leap of faith required to accept that Paul was receiving messages from Jesus, including stories of the last supper, is pretty high. When you ask the question “is Paul worth believing?” I don’t know how you get to yes. Christianity assigns a very high value to Paul’s narrative, yet it’s remarkably unsubstantiated.
Modern Christianity would almost certainly not exist if not for Paul. He was the catalyst to get it moving, and he presumably was quite the tenacious (and probably charismatic) guy. He spent decades traveling around the Mediterranean, preaching to Jews and gentiles, alike. 10 years after Christ’s death, there were maybe 1000 Christians in the Roman empire. By the time Paul died (67 CE), there were maybe 2500. Almost all of these conversions would have been due to Paul’s work.
But that brings up another issue. To a good Jew at the time (and a kosher Jew now), Leviticus 17:14 forbids drinking blood (Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, ‘You are not to eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.’).
To a practicing Jew, which is what many early Christians were, this blood issue was serious business, and the prospect of ritually drinking Jesus’ blood would have been horrifying. In fact, it probably would have been a deal-breaker to many Jews; however, to pagans, mystery cultists, and practitioners of other Greco-Roman traditions, drinking blood (imitation or otherwise) was no big deal, and was certainly borrowed from the Dionysus and Mithras myths.
There are plenty of examples of how Christianity borrowed from competing traditions. I’m not terribly interested in comparative mythology, but my point here is that, even in early Christianity, there were sharp divisions between Jewish adherents and the more Pauline/Hellenistic traditions. Early Christianity had different sales pitches, depending on who the target audience was – if it was Jews, Jesus’ body and blood part of the story would have been downplayed, and if it was certain gentiles, the body and blood would have been highlighted. This evolution went on for hundreds of years as Christian doctrines evolved.
Modern Christians are inheritors of Paul’s legacy; but there’s a pretty important character that gets minimized in the Pauline tradition – James. Who is James? James was Jesus’ biological brother, and he preached Jewish Christianity in Jerusalem until his death in 62CE. I don’t remember James being mentioned a single time, either in religion classes nor during a sermon, for the entire time I was a Christian. There’s a good reason for that.
James’ died a few years prior to Mark being written. 8 years later, the Jewish temple in Jerusalem was destroyed after the first Jewish-Roman war, and Christianity in Jerusalem was squashed. Christians in Jerusalem, who had inherited James’ teachings, fled outside the city. It is thought by many that a line exists between early Jerusalem Christians and an autonomous sect of Christianity, called Ebionites. Ebionites never enjoyed a tremendous membership, probably because there was not enough meaningful difference between Judaism and them.
There are some meaningful differences between the Pauline tradition (along with the gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John) and the Ebionite, but the one that’s most striking to me is that Ebionites contended there was no virgin birth. In other words, a sect who was practicing the Christianity Christ’s brother taught believed Jesus was not divine and not born to a virgin. They also rejected Paul had any sort of meaningful communication with a dead Jesus.
Any problems here? Anything seem funny? Considering Mark didn’t mention the virgin birth, and considering that the virgin birth was not introduced until Matthew around 85CE, and considering there were plenty of Greco-Roman traditions at the time that did reference virgin births of other mythical deities, I think it’s clear that the virgin birth (and the Bethlehem origin) was concocted as an embellishment in the decades following Paul’s death (67CE).
Remember, these stories were mostly composed of oral traditions, along with Paul’s writings during his travels around the Mediterranean – they crossed seas and underwent decades of modifications to suit their conversion agenda.
The title of this post is “Why I’m Not A Christian”. Christianity doesn’t work. That’s why the New Testament mix-and-matches chronology, and it’s why apologists have to work so hard to make it as monolithic as possible. Christianity is just stories, borrowed from earlier myths, cooked up by illiterate, Aramaic-speaking fisherman, undergoing decades of embellishment by Greek writers and early practitioners, multiple-language translations, and eventually composed by committees re-assembling thousands of scraps of parchment.
In all these stories, Jesus eventually died on the cross. There’s a pretty big collection of discrepancies surrounding his death in the synoptic gospels – time of day, day of week, when questioning occurred by the high priests, when the robe was put on, etc. Regardless of the contradictions, one thing has always seemed interesting. Matthew 27:51 says
And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many
It’s interesting, I think, that in a nation full of copious note takers, no one noticed an earth quake and risen dead people walking around. I wonder why that is…
Of course, not a single bit of this information is necessary to reject Christianity or to be skeptical of a personal, intervening deity, but I find it interesting to dig into the historical context of Christianity, because even the tiniest amount of injected skepticism renders so much of it to be just another Roman myth. And for a species inclined to deity invention and worship, it’s no wonder that it still has practitioners.
Bertrand Russell once riffed on the idea of a celestial teapot, revolving the sun, between Mars and Earth. This teapot, he said, cannot be disproven. There are plenty of times throughout our lives where the expectation is that we believe something despite an absence of evidence. But to Bertrand Russell’s point, the burden of proof should not be placed on a person to disprove something, particularly when there is no clear path to falsify it; rather, the burden of proof should be on the one positing the existence of something. In this framework, it is not anyone’s burden to disprove god or the teapot; rather, there should be evidence put forward to give some good justification for their existence. In my estimation, there is none, either for god or the teapot.
Most Christians, I think, are concerned about whether or not there’s going to be a party after the show. I suspect there won’t be. But that conclusion is not an occasion to weep about the party that won’t happen; rather, it’s an opportunity to recognize that the show we have the good fortune to attend is important, and those details about which many of us had hoped were being managed by the all-knowing, all-loving deity are in actuality our responsibility to manage.
The famous Deist Benjamin Franklin said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. In that respect, the answer, as Douglas Adams put it, is indeed 42. Yet the big question is still elusive. How do we get to our proverbial 42?
The ability to throw away bad ideas, focus our attention on better alternatives, and live for the only moment about which we are completely certain we will experience gives us our best chance to get to it; even if we come to different conclusions about what our individualistic path is, it still makes sense to do it. My personal goal is to live my life happily, try to learn a little bit more about the amazing universe we inherited, and from time-to-time, share some of my time, knowledge, and love with the people who matter most to me.
Religion is not just unnecessary to these ends, but indeed it is detrimental, because it encourages us to believe that life is infinite, that our moments here matter less than ones coming to us after we die, that prayer is useful to solve our problems, and that terrestrial priority should be given to a deity who neither deserves it, earns it, nor would need it if he existed. It was bronze age citizens who concocted a god that shared a remarkable number of its characteristics with the age’s worst sort of people.