“We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, … Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man. He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. And in the Holy Ghost.
“[But those who say: ‘There was a time when he was not,’ and “He was not before he was made,’ and ‘He was made out of nothing,’ or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or ‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable’ – they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.]”
– The original Nicene Creed, 325 AD
For something like sixteen or seventeen centuries, Western Civilization had a strong belief that everything in The Holy Bible was true. This was a given for many, fed into their minds before they could walk or think logically and it formed the foundation, the irrefutable bedrock of their thinking. For the rest, there were significant penalties for not believing or at least for saying one didn’t believe. One could not aspire to positions of trust without espousing a belief in the Bible or at least not speaking out against it. One could not marry and have their marriage recognized by their families or their community without giving up one’s children to be educated in its teachings. In many places and times, death or banishment were the penalties for publicly doubting scripture. An entire genre (Apologetics) has defended Biblical inerrancy for centuries.
Despite all this, there is a rising tide of certainty that the Earth is incredibly old, the Universe is inconceivably large and several times older than the Sun and the Earth, disease is caused by viruses and bacteria rather than sin, and mankind has been around for a couple million years, which is both too short a time and too long a time for the Bible’s version of our origins to be in any way valid. Recent discoveries even strongly suggest that the soul works in ways at odds with Biblical assertions, that descriptions of mankind’s “sinful” nature are wrong, and that the Creator might be quite different from the racist, sexist, violently ineffective and anthropomorphic characterization found in Holy Writ.
It seems only fair that we begin by doubting what was written in scripture and see where it leads. As Ira Gershwin’s words sang so cleverly in Porgy and Bess, “It Ain’t Necessarily So. The things that you’re liable to find in the Bible just ain’t necessarily so.”
A Reliable and Consistent Historical Record
The Earth’s crust is composed of layers of ancient deposits where mud, gravel and trash accrete year after year interspersed with areas like the Himalayas or the Hawaiian Islands where the Earth’s crust is rising up. Of course the layers are cut by rivers from time to time, the Grand Canyon being a prime example, but such variations form clear discontinuities in the strata. We have evidence all over of cities built on the rubble of older ruins and history layered in these deposits. This forms an unusually reliable and consistent record of the past.
Christians, Jews, and Muslims among us expected these records to corroborate their stories but so far, findings are not encouraging to those hoping for scientific support of these religious beliefs.
Furthermore, writings in Egypt, which we can now read, span the time of Noah’s improbable 900-year lifespan without stopping and without even mentioning a catastrophic flood or noting any unusually long lifetimes. There is no detritus layer to show that a worldwide flood ever happened or even that a catastrophic local flood occurred. The Nile River flooded yearly and Egyptian civilization continued close to Mt. Ararat unhindered by the wrath of God.
Archaeologists have unearthed a number of the towns that Joshua was supposed to have sacked, Jericho included. Their findings also refute the stories in The Holy Bible. This relieves me, since those stories tell of brutal massacres where, with God’s help and approval, all inhabitants including children were indiscriminately slaughtered so that their town could be stolen.
As we dig deeper into the past, we find a hundred-million-year span during which no tree existed, no blade of grass grew, and where the largest land mammal was about the size of a small squirrel. The age of dinosaurs lasted fifty times longer than the age of man and yet the supposed history found in Genesis doesn’t mention it. As we go further back in time, life becomes ever more primitive and, at the deepest levels where evidence of life is found at all, it is merely small, unicellular creatures.
This same story consistently repeats over the surface of the planet on every continent. It tells of catastrophic events which changed the nature and composition of life on Earth. During each and every one of these epic events, mankind did not exist.
There is an even older historical record available in addition to the Earth’s strata: the light we see at night: stars, galaxies and nebulae. With the exception of our own solar system and a few nearby stars, what we see at night is ancient history, a record of events so far into the past that life on Earth had not yet happened and, we have strong evidence to believe, before our own star coalesced and began to shine.
Again, the story told by the stars is not consistent with that found in our holy books. It is not even similar in any way. We see stars in different phases of their evolution: some quite ancient, their energy slowly leaking out into the vast reaches of space; others just starting their solar systems and evolving planets; and still others dying spectacularly in supernovas and throwing out higher elements into the Cosmos. The Biblical stories are wrong, not only in particulars, but in their central theme: that mankind was a lead character in the Creation and that Jews (or the credulous and obedient) were of unique concern to their Creator.
A Schizophrenic Bible
Let me characterize Jesus of Nazareth by focusing on his teachings before the Last Supper. For the moment, please ignore the Last Supper, his symbolic death, his resurrection and his teachings about his own symbolism and the requirement of religious belief. In contrast, let’s consider the messages of the New and Old Testaments side by side.
Jesus crafted the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is a marvelously useful piece of advice. It uses a person’s own empathy to temporarily imagine being in another pair of shoes and suggests an ability to make ethical and thoughtful decisions based on what we glean from this. There is really no need for other rules. This one rule is sufficient to just about all circumstances and situations.
Jehovah crafted the Ten Commandments: The first four are required practices of the Jewish religion, rules not applicable to other cultures and therefore exclusive. The rule about killing (murder) is so ambiguous as to be ignored throughout history when applied to others with differing cultures and beliefs. Furthermore, Jehovah kills throughout the Old Testament and there are even examples of “sanctified” killing such as Joshua and his conquests.
When Jehovah tells Abraham to kill his newborn second son, the man’s willingness to violate the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, and his own intense feelings of love and loyalty is seen as a laudable demonstration of faith by the same “God” who crafted those Commandments and that rule and those feelings rather than what this was: a demonstration of immorality, gullibility and blind, foolish obedience. Furthermore, the entire Judaeo-Christian-Islamic community seems to have this same blindness to the irony and irrationality of this narrative. For those who counter with, “but God never intended to go through with this,” I counter with “but Abraham did,” and call your attention to the centuries where Jehovah stood idly by while we persecuted and murdered others in His name and for His glory. The point is that this story is horribly misleading. It instructs us in harmful attitudes and behaviors. It teaches us to ignore morality, ethics, and our own consciences. It is in direct conflict with the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. It pretends that God will save us from ourselves!
The entire context of the Ten Commandments is within a particular society. It isn’t inclusive and it isn’t complete. There is no prohibition against rape or slavery. The prohibition isn’t against lying in general but bearing false witness against a neighbor. There is nothing to preclude making up false stories about other cultures, a practice that continues today in many Christian circles. The injunctions against coveting are not viable in that we can choose our actions, but we cannot always choose our thoughts. Furthermore, corporate capitalism, pervasive throughout most “Christian” societies today, is based on coveting as its predominant value. Coveting is the compass which directs and regulates our entire society!
Jesus was nonviolent. He lived and practiced nonviolence. He taught turning the other cheek in response to others taking offense, a nonreactive, nonviolent response.
Jehovah was not only violent; He used violence repeatedly and ineffectively. He punished Adam and Eve for their curiosity and disobedience, but that didn’t alter human behavior. He turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt for her curiosity or compassion in looking back at her ruined home, thus causing deceit and incest in the one family He thought worth saving out all of the souls in Sodom and Gomorrah. He drowned all humans but eight members of a selected family and yet failed, in these and other dramatically violent interventions, to put a dent in “sin.”
It is clear to me that Jehovah loathed almost all of the traits that are predominant in our species. And yet it is a common practice to call Jehovah “Our Father” and to believe that He loves us even though He hated almost every uniquely human characteristic.
Jesus was kind and thoughtful, a person of great compassion. He healed the sick and fed the hungry and walked and talked humbly and simply. Jesus was nonjudgmental.
Jehovah was a bigot and a bully. He forced Hagar to sleep with her owner and bear him an heir. Then he reversed her owner’s sterility and helped create a new heir to disinherit her son. None of this was fair or effective. He sponsored the conquest of Jericho which was robbery and murder, not to mention coveting. Jehovah wasn’t fair or ethical. He was a contemporary of Zeus, Odin and the other fictional “gods” of that era.
Jesus was inclusive. He made friends with Mary Magdalene who was, apparently, a former prostitute. He walked with fishermen and everyday people. He gave away things freely and urged others to do the same. He preached and exemplified compassion.
Jehovah was exclusive. Jehovah was sexist and racist. When He tortured Job, the consideration of his wife and children was nonexistent, and He clearly believed that replacement resolved their demise as if they were furniture or some other property. Jehovah’s concerns were primarily men, leaders and royalty and He apparently considered wealth and renown a suitable reward for those He favored. Jehovah was rarely compassionate, even less effective and never humble.
I could go on. The point here is that the Trinity, when looked at with our brains functioning, is ridiculous. Jesus and Jehovah didn’t see the world with any commonality let alone in lock step. To say they were one and the same being or even aspects of one and the same being is foolish. Nevertheless, the Council of Nicea did just that and the Roman Emperor made it into law and, for centuries, everyone in the Roman Empire or any Catholic or Protestant congregation that wanted to get along pretended it was true.
Maybe we pretend it is true. The lie flourishes. The truth sits and waits for us to catch up to it. Like The Emperor’s New Clothes, to avoid being conspicuous, we go along with the pretense.
This inappropriate but successful behavior, teaches us not to trust ourselves, to passively follow the crowd. We become split into our real selves that even we ourselves do not really know and our public selves that are rehearsed like roles in a play. We expend enormous effort in manipulating what others think and almost no effort at all looking for the truth. We align our ostensible selves with a local sports team or a church or a special interest group or a political party or nation and we rehearse our part in the company of people with similar public selves.
Consider the probability that a great deal of The Holy Bible was and is fictional. I suggest that a loving God (or even a wise and loving man) would not make blind credulity the single and all-important difference between between being acceptable or unacceptable. I suggest – and hope to prove – that violence is not an effective instrument for conflict resolution or for implementing change. And I hope you may consider the possibility that labels like “good” and “evil” are rarely fair or helpful; that they invariably lead to perpetual conflict, not resolution.
Honesty forces us to arrive at some unavoidable conclusions.
The Old Testament is not accurate. Its portrayal of history, ancient, contemporary, and future, is at odds with a significant number of established facts. It pretends to know the future, which should raise questions about delusions of grandeur by its authors. It places mankind front and center in the Creation, while history places her well below dinosaurs in importance and longevity. Its moral and ethical compass is horribly distorted. Labels such as “good” and “evil” are defined and exemplified so that the only meaningful difference between them is God’s permission, approval and forbearance – conveyed by powerful clergy, of course.
The New Testament portrays Jesus of Nazareth as schizophrenic. For most of his life, Jesus preached and practiced spirituality: humility, kindness, generosity, consideration, inclusion and brotherhood. At the eleventh hour, however, Jesus changed both his message and behavior. This new “Jesus” is a human manifestation of God while in chapters before he humbled himself before God. This new “Jesus” is concerned with creating new symbols and a new religion. He passes out symbolic flesh and symbolic blood during a celebration of Passover and asks his disciples to perform this pagan ritual … behavior totally out of character with the rest of his first life and inappropriate for the occasion and his followers. After he is resurrected, he never again talks about humility, poverty, compassion, forgiveness, or forbearance. His new concern is getting everyone to believe that he himself was a symbol and that by dying and coming alive again he symbolically absolved everyone of “sin” in perpetuity … if and only if they can manage to believe he’s the same person … both as his former self that healed and taught a completely different set of lessons and as Jehovah, who rarely healed and taught lessons at odds with both sides of Jesus.
It is confusing, which helps us overlook the obvious – that it doesn’t make sense and cannot possibly be true.
A Different Set of Values
So, let’s set a different standard and look for things that are helpful and effective:
|Not Helpful / Not Effective||Helpful / Effective|
|Jehovah + Symbolic Jesus||Jesus before the Last Supper|
|the concepts Good and Evil||The Golden Rule|
|Absolution||Understanding, Remorse, Amends|
|Violence||Nonviolence, Humility, Forgiveness, Kindness|
|The Last Supper + second life of Jesus||The Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes|
|Damning everyone but Christians1||Including everyone, universal brotherhood|
|Hating Sin; Absolute boundaries||Empathy for all, sinners, enemies, everyone|
|Obedience; Rituals||Kindness, Generosity, Compassion|
|Credulity, Symbolism, Rituals||Deeds|
|Blind Faith||Curiosity, Inquiry, Understanding|
The earlier Jesus and spirituality speak to our real being, to who we truly are and how we might feel if we allowed our compassion to expand outward, to include everyone else, to encompass the entire human family and its complete diversity.
To clearly understand the differences between Jehovah and Jesus, learn about spirituality. Get out of your head and into the body’s natural empathy for others. Once you’ve experienced the inclusive nature of spirituality, the divisive aspects of Judaism, Christianity and Islam will become obvious.
As Gautama Buddha was quoted as saying 2500 years ago, “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with facts and experience and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”
©David N. Dodson, 2016, Phoenix, AZ
1At the time this rule damned every person on the face of the earth except for some of the people in the room and possibly one or two others. It wasn’t consonant with either the character or the message of Jesus of Nazareth up to this time. Experts attest to the probability that ghost writers penned the Gospels using oral history, a flawed translation of the Messianic prophecies and the pagan beliefs they held before their “conversion.”