Archive for November, 2012

New Testament Quotes 3: Jesus performs a multiple exorcism by killing a vast herd of pigs.

My Diamond Jubilee New Testament, arriving through my letterbox uninvited, has the following to say about itself: that it is “The world’s most valuable gift”.

Let’s examine that claim. Take for example, the events of Mark 5:1-20, in which Jesus heals a “demon-possessed man”. I don’t have to tell you that there has never been any sound evidence for demon possession. If you do have evidence for demon possession, I encourage you to apply for the $1million prize from the James Randi Foundation. Religious organizations could do a lot of good with that cash, but curiously none of them has successfully claimed it. On the contrary, belief in demons and evil spirits has caused vast quantities of unnecessary death and suffering.Take for example, the Salem witch hunts. People are still regularly murdered or ostracised for being witches or being possessed by demons in the third world. Jesus apparently also held this belief, and its appearance in a book and in  a Demi-God still taken to be holy by vast numbers of people who should know better is a major reason why people continue to suffer as a result.

In Mark 5:1-30, Jesus encounters a man with “an impure spirit” living “in the tombs”. According to the story, the man is possessed by not just one but multiple spirits, who beg Jesus not to send them away. They then beg Jesus to send them into a herd of pigs. Jesus is Ok with that; let’s see what happens:

Mark 5:13. “He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out of them and went into the pigs. The pigs, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.”

Let’s not go into the ethical implications of sacrificing two thousand pigs unnecessarily. It must have been horrific. Jesus sanctions it, so if your morality comes from Jesus, it must have been OK, right? Worse, though, is that the supposed saviour of mankind believes in all this stuff. He actually has a worldview that encompasses good and evil spirits. He wants you to share that worldview. And this guy is someone people today actually think is worth worshipping. At the very least, the Jesus portrayed here gets his understanding of the world badly wrong, and commits an atrocious act of animal cruelty. At worst….I’ll let you imagine what it’s like to be burnt or drowned for being a witch. Thanks for all that, Jesus. Mark 5:13. You have to read it to believe it. But it’s the world’s most valuable gift, all the same.

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Daily New Testament Quotes 2: healing power shoots out of Jesus through his clothes.

So, the New Testamant doesn’t just contain some outrageously stupid statements, but also is full of faintly embarrassing ones. These embarrasing statements make it necessary to retain some large degree of cognitive dissonance if one is also to treat the books as somehow holy or deserving of credibility. Here’s a memorable one:

During the height of Jesus’ miracle tour of Judea, the desperate, sick, hopeless, awestruck and just plain gullible followed him everywhere hoping for action. In Mark 5, we hear the story of a  woman who had been “bleeding for 12 years”. She thinks she will be cured if she touches his cloak. She does so, and her bleeding “immediately stopped”. In verse 30 we learn how this happened:

” At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned round in the crowd and asked “Who touched my clothes?””.

I remember hearing this story many times in church, and always looked around to see if other people were as embarrassed by it as I was. There’s something about the “power going out” from Jesus through his clothes that makes it totally lack credibility. What is this power, we might ask? It’s something physical we can detect.  Perhaps it was electricity, or The Force. How are his clothes a conductor of this power? Why does Jesus know it was his clothers in general, but not his cloak in particular? Plainly, all his clothes have this conducting power, not just his cloak. Jesus plainly also has an internal healing-power meter and can monitor the drain on this power in real time.  This also suggests that the power can be depleted, and Jesus’ power will stop if used up. Why didn’t Jesus leave us all with some of his special clothes? Or give us the secret of his healing power? Oh wait, he did! Because later on he says “Daughter, your faith has healed you”. There we have it then: the clothes also knew that she was faithful, and the power somehow detected this even though Jesus himself was not conscious of it. The physics of this is quite interesting. I’m especially interested by the faith-detecting clothes. Catching peoples’ eyes in church, I frequently remember the looks I received in return that seemed to say “Yes, I know this is silly, but showing it isn’t the done thing”. Quite. Mark 5:30 you have to read it to believe it.

Daily New Testament Quotes 1

So today we received through the door a gift “with love from the churches of Bishopthorpe”. It was a copy of the New Testament to celebrate the Queen’s diamond jubillee (remember that?), adorned with a Union Jack to reinforce the oft-quoted claim that Britain is a “Christian Nation”.

What an enormous waste of money and effort. This is already the most popular book in the world: if a family has a book, the chances are it has this one. They could have spent that money and effort on something more tangible that will actually be used. The New Testament, written and edited and translated and mistranslated and re-edited and re-told and re-translated and mistranslated as it was in the Iron Age through to the present day, was put together by people who knew almost nothing of the real world as we understand it today. When I read it, I am overwhelmed by how wrong they got it all, and by how lucky we are to live in more enlightened times, when the issues of Gods and spirits, and holy commands, and resurrections and eternal life are recognized by most people for what they are: the claims of ignorant people doing their best a long time ago. They had no knoweldge of how they and the Earth came to be, of where ethics and morality come from, of how to tell truth from fiction or fantasy, of how to create a just and equal society, and held moral views that would now be seen as extremely backward. This apparently is the most important thing the churches think they can spend their money on. That alone should disqualify them all from running schools or providing public services.

I thought to celebrate this gift, I’d take some quotes to show just how insightful the New Testament really is. Here’s a starter:

John20: 19 (Jesus appears to Thomas) : Then Jesus told him ” Because you have seen me you have believed, but blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”.

A reckon that that’s close to the most stupid and harmful statement ever made by a human being. And if comes straight from the proposed saviour of mankind, a Demi-God no less. No, no, you don’t need evidence to believe, and certainly not for an extraordinary claim. People are blessed by Jesus for believing without evidence. It’s one of the main reasons why it should be obvious to anyone that Christianity, along with every other religion, makes totally bogus claims: only bogus claims need the protection of faith. Only a con-artist would ask you to believe something on faith, especially when a real deity or half-deity would be quite capable of providing any evidence sufficient to convince anyone, or indeed a personal Road-to-Damascus experience. But no, not a sausage. Just “have faith”. Some Christian denominations even  make faith the only way to get that totally other bogus claim, eternal life. Don’t question what we say, and you get something you think you want but will never know that you get. John 20:19: you really have to read it to believe it.