In today’s world we no longer have magicians. They are illusionists. This is because we know that “magic” tricks us into seeing what we expect to see rather than what actually happened. While unusual things happen in today’s world such as cancer in remission and reviving people who have been officially dead for a short while, once a person in the modern world has not had a pulse for an hour or two, we know his tissues have become necrotic and the brain will no longer function properly. We can keep the blood pumping and the lungs breathing using machines, but once the brain stops functioning and starts decaying, keeping the body alive is an exercise in futility. Thus, the commonplace “miracles” of The Holy Bible are unheard of in reality today, but still commonplace in fiction.
We have a myriad of fictional universes today which have a fictional back story and fictional magical powers.
One such fictional universe is called “Star Wars” and has many authors creating stories about Hans Solo, Luke Skywalker, the Jedi and the Sith. George Lucas and a whole cadre of imaginative authors and screenwriters have filled our screens and books with fanciful powers, with heroic and dastardly deeds, with a rich blending of fanciful races and imaginative powers and, of course, with “the force.”
We have fictional universes all over today. Companions of Valdemar in the world of Velgarth are horse-like creatures with magical properties who life-bond telepathically with humans to form a cadre of do-gooders. We have fanciful Earth, Air, Fire, and Water Masters and their magical followers and adventures. We have elves, trolls, faeries, demons, unicorns and dragons. We have a massive number of magical universes adapted for children: Superman, Batman, Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, Care Bears, Tinkerbell, Mickey Mouse, and Never Never Land. I could go on all day.
So, I’m suggesting that in the “modern” world some 1950 years ago, entertainment was more primitive and either books or word of mouth stories were the extent of entertainment for those who weren’t eager to see fellow slaves killed in the arena by wild beasts or each other. So a genre of Christian fantasies sprung up, centered around a real human character named Jesus of Nazareth who was wise and charismatic and who had a small group of followers. These stories combined this character with a fictional character Christ, who had a rich story in the Septuagint and was an incarnation of God to become ruler of the Earth because of his magical powers.
To make these stories credible to their audience, who were almost entirely pagan, they changed a number of things. First, because Jesus actually died, they had to invent a Second Coming to explain the fact that the Roman Emperor still ruled almost all the known world and not Jesus. Secondly, they had to alter Jesus’ message from one of universal love, tolerance, humility and forgiveness to one of rituals, rules, regulations, obedience, and credulity. This makes Jesus into three incompatible parts.
There is the Jesus of the Beatitudes: stressing kindness, forgiveness, understanding, compassion, love and, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, seeing a fellow human rather than a loathsome enemy. His rule is the Golden Rule, a rule that applies evenly to all people and works well in all situations. This being, whether man or god, brought all people together and stressed things they had in common. His message, up to the Last Supper, was uniting, accepting, and forgiving. This historical Jesus did, I believe, reject the role of Christ and chose to die rather than claim godhood or sainthood and use what miraculous powers he was said to have had to ascend to power as was foretold. His last words were forgiving and in keeping with his message of humility and compassion.
Then there is the pagan, ritualistic Jesus, who, inexplicably, conducts a pagan rite in the middle of celebrating Passover with his Jewish disciples, who asks them to drink “blood” and eat “flesh.” Furthermore, after this, his message no longer has anything to do with his life’s work of teaching universal brotherhood. Instead, he’s rigid in his rules: anyone who doesn’t believe he died and rose from the grave; anyone who doubts that he is God incarnate, anyone who can’t swallow this improbable, almost inconceivable story will be “damned” and anyone who can will be “saved.” At the moment he is saying this, all but the thirteen in the room are to be “damned.” This is such a gigantic change, I cannot believe Jesus, in his right mind, would ever utter the words that drew an imaginary line through nations, communities and families and placed the label “saved” on one half and “damned” on the other half purely on their ability to believe the improbable. Furthermore, the liturgy that this attitude has engendered has created continuing divisions within the Christian community itself. Once belief becomes a requirement of salvation, the controversy about what those beliefs should be started immediately and has never stopped. In addition to the conflicts within Christianity, the conflict between Christians and non-Christians fills our history books. This aspect of our “Savior” is anything but humble, loving, uniting or forgiving.
Finally, and most disturbingly, Jesus was supposed to be Jehovah himself. This paradoxical identity was forced on the Christian community by the Nicene Creed in 325. It requires us to again believe the inconceivable. Jesus is Christ who is, in turn, fully Jehovah and, at the same time, fully human. The Being that, with absolute power, resorted again and again to violence which never brought the results He desired; the Bigot; the Being who thought of Job’s family as irrelevant collateral damage in a gentleman’s contest with the Devil; the Being who tempted Abraham to murder his own son and stopped only when Abraham decided to do it; The Being who made “covenants” with various Jewish leaders giving them title to land currently owned and inhabited by others (that said, “no stealing” and “no killing” and then sponsored stealing and killing); this being is the Jesus of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” the Jesus of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the Jesus of kind and humble deeds. This makes no sense to me. When I was eight, I couldn’t believe this. I’ve never found any logical reason to believe it since.
The reason many people believe that The Holy Bible is the word of God is because they have been told that many times and whose loyalty to friends and family overruled logic.
We now live in a world which has changed drastically from the one in which this very popular book emerged.
There are still some who will attempt to pray themselves to health or just accept that, as the Bible asserts, some sin or another has caused them to become ill. But the vast majority of people today have come to realize that disease is caused by viruses, bacteria or the body’s own immune system and has little to do with what we believe, what we say or what we do.
This one fact alone might lead us to question whether or not the Creator would tell us lies or, alternatively, that men and women with much less valid information than we have today were just making up stories to entertain themselves.
Modern science has, since 5 July, 1687 when Principia Mathematica was first published in Latin (or, at least since 1728 when an English translation was released), revealed to us a very different universe than the one assumed by the creators of the Bible. There are no miracles or magic; only phenomena which we do not understand and less and less of that as we actually believe our own experience rather than the paradoxical teachings of ancient writings of superstitious, fearful, and credulous people. This one publication revealed a number of what had been the secrets of the universe and the realm of prophets and holy men heretofore. It explained many things big and small. Sir Issac Newton ushered in a new understanding of the world we live in and its relationship to the rest of creation and it showed those with the wit to understand, the simple scientific basis upon which it functions. Shortly thereafter, another keen observer added the process of evolution to our body of growing awareness which, along with astronomy, put mankind as a peripheral afterthought in a tiny backwater of the Creation rather than front and center.
The New Testament is only some of the writings from the second half of the First Century to the Fourth Century which attached themselves to the, by then, legendary figure of Jesus of Nazareth and his followers and used, as their inspiration, a flawed Greek translation of ancient Jewish prophecies and made the dubious assumption that Jesus was the Messiah of prophecy even though he died rather than rule the World. Over time, these writings were altered to make them more believable or to counter the constant and ongoing problem of heresy which has plagued Christianity since its inception. There is (and has been from the onset) staunch agreement about the need for belief in the “Truth” of Christian teachings, but a massive and passionate diversity of belief in what that “Truth” is.
The New Testament started out as letters, pamphlets and stories written by various anonymous authors who had been raised in various pagan traditions and were mentored by a Jewish man originally known as Saul of Tarsus. The letters proclaimed a new idea in the ancient world: that there is only one legitimate God and that he wants our belief rather than our sacrifices as had previously been the case. The stories centered around Jesus and his followers, but were not first-hand or even second-hand accounts. These imaginative stories generally had some lesson to impart which used magical powers of belief to bring about a resolution considered favorable by the authors or their readers or to underscore some virtue considered important. There were many stories circulating in the Roman world than were left out of the New Testament. Some had ordinary people, recently converted, who, because of their belief, could then do magic similar to the magic attributed to Christ. There were many, popular with women, which made celibacy, even when married, the highest virtue. Of those that were included, there are still many discrepancies and, as you go back to unaltered originals, many inconsistencies within the liturgy. Had we not had churches telling us that these fanciful stories were true, we might classify them as historical fantasies.
There are today quite a few historians who have studied the origins and suppositions in the Bible. We have studied the evolution of these stories as they first used an inaccurately-translated Greek version of the Hebrew prophecies as their template. We see the loving and inclusive and spiritual teachings of Jesus of Nazareth patched together with a humanized version of a fanciful but racist and non-loving, non-inclusive, non-spiritual Jehovah called Christ who was to rule the World for a thousand years as the vindication of Jewish lust for an empire of their own; but somehow modified to be vindicating only Christian believers instead of people with Jewish mothers who maintained the traditions of Judaism.
Even as early as the first writings of Saint Paul (the new identity of the aforementioned Saul of Tarsus), there were diversities of belief as to whether Jesus was man or god, whether or not one must circumcised to curry God’s favor, and whether or not Jesus started out as a human, was adopted by God at his baptism, and reverted back to human form shortly before his death. There were so many different “truths” circulating by the time of the Council of Nicea was called together to establish an official form of Christianity to be adopted by the Roman Empire, that this minority group within the bishops of Christianity damned even Christians if they didn’t believe in the Trinity, in the total and ongoing divinity of Jesus of Nazareth, in Mary’s virginity, and in the perpetual forgiveness of sin by blood sacrifice of the body of Jesus coupled with a belief that this happened.
One thing I can’t stress enough: this is the opposite of freedom of belief. If you are within a typical Christian group, you MUST believe what they tell you to believe or be forced out of the group.
For centuries, Christians have persecuted other Christians with slightly different beliefs as well as Jews and Moslems who believe in the same God. They excommunicated or tortured dissidents or isolated them in monasteries. The Church sponsored wars of conquest in the “Holy Land,” in the “New World,” and in Palestine in the last century. This is totally incompatible with “Peace on Earth, good will to all men.”
Christianity insists that God that is fully one and fully 3 and forces one to believe in a deity that is simultaneously kind, loving, forgiving, and merciful and, at the same time capable of killing all land-based life on the planet in a worldwide flood, forcing a father kill his infant son, and damning most of the world’s population for the “sin” of curiosity and logical thought. This is not consistent or rational. To believe this, one must abandon both logic and common sense and become schizophrenic.
I believe that dogmatic religions are a form of mental illness that twists the brain, making it incapable of compassion or rational thought outside the confines of a particular doctrinal framework.
©David N. Dodson, September, 2016, Phoenix, AZ