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Not Really the Greatest Story Ever Told: Easter Edition

Hey Jesus, I'm pretty sure being that forlorn is a sin.

Hey Jesus, I’m pretty sure being that forlorn is a sin.

The story of Easter is a fan-fiction that’s been crowd-sourced for over two thousand years.  Granted, its fanatical authorship is of a bit higher caliber than, say, the latest provocateur of paranormal teen angst and sex. In truth, they represent some of the greatest minds our planet has ever coincidentally regurgitated throughout human history as male.  Men such as Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and Karl Barth.   But, despite this accumulated brilliance, and maybe because of it, the story just can’t quite seem to coherently come together as a whole.

Today, our literary critique of the story starts at the end.  Does Easter’s conclusion with Jesus‘ resurrection make this the greatest story ever written?   Unfortunately, its fan-fiction continually undercuts the gravitas of this singular occasion.  First of all, it wasn’t singular. Lazarus is resurrected quite a few chapters prior to Jesus.   Interestingly, only one gospel mentions the zombie whom Jesus loved.  Probably because even David Blaine could tell you that your big finale shouldn’t be the same trick you did earlier in the act.  Seriously though, the synoptic gospels don’t mention this story, and it is only found in the much later written gospel of John.  In some ways, John is the first attempt at the fan-fiction of Jesus.  Here is Boston University professor Paula Fredriksen’s take on the person of Jesus in the gospel of John:

“Jesus in the Gospel of John is difficult to reconstruct as an historical person, because his character in the gospel is in full voice giving very developed theological soliloquies about himself. It’s not the sort of thing that if you try to put in a social context would appeal to a large number of followers. Because it’s so much Christian proclamation and Christian imagery, and it’s very developed. It’s a very developed Christology.”

When Jesus calls himself “the resurrection” in John and then goes about doing some resurrecting, the author is obviously making a statement about the nature of Jesus.  And while it could be a good theological point –and maybe it even really happened– it does not make for a compelling story. I mean, there is foreshadowing, and then there’s blowing up the Death Star again.

Another problem for the narrative structure of Easter occurs in the next century or so.  This fault rest firmly on Tertullian when he coins the term “Trinity”, and exacerbated later when it is codified in the Nicene Creed of 325.  The concept of a monotheistic religion have several gods is a tricky philosophical problem to work out, and many smart folks have tried to tackle it with varying levels of success.  My personal favorite quote on this topic is from Thomas Jefferson:

“Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.”

Despite the obvious logical difficulties the trinity presents, most churches consider this doctrine central to their belief system. The logic puzzle here is not the concern.   The problem is that if Jesus was God, then the resurrection is simply boring.  Writing a story about how someone immortal doesn’t die is like telling the story of a puppy being cute, a fish swimming, or  I don’t know, Tom Cruise being gay.  It’s just who they are. (Also, they would all make for great Pixar movies.)  If Jesus was fully God, dying is not a big deal.  It’s not a sacrifice in any way.  He dies for like a day and a half tops, and is worshipped for an eternity in everlasting bliss.  I’m pretty sure most people would sign up for that gig.

I’ll mention one argument I can think of which could be used to introduce a bit more pathos into the story.  Jesus was sinless but died anyway.  That’s gotta tug at the old heartstrings.  Okay, yeah, but isn’t that basically the plot of Old Yeller? Jesus took on the rabies of our sin and we were forced to put him down. That’s why this is a special story!  Maybe this sacrificial lamb/scapegoat concept held more narrative power back in its day when people actually sacrificed animals to feel better about themselves and make it rain, but now it just doesn’t hold up.  (And it’s just as manipulative as that freaking Disney version…)  Also, sinless people die all the time, that’s nothing new.  Because most people don’t hold to the concept of “original sin”, all children would qualify for that distinction. Even if they did have “original sin”, what just god would hold infants and babies accountable for the actions of their ancestors.  Also, because of the trinity, his very sinless nature is called into question, because, once again, he’s playing with a rigged deck. He is all powerful.  He has access to god that other humans will never be granted.  No need for faith, or hope, because he knows for a certainty how this all plays out.  He’s the original Superman. A guy who started merely leaping a few tall buildings, and then later became so popular and powerful that he could reverse time by flying real fast.  Narratively, Jesus’ enhanced god powers kill the Easter story.

Very much like the sixth season of ABC’s Lost, the introduction of rules, theology, and mythology obfuscate whatever interesting story used to exist.  If God is the author of this great narrative thing we call life, then we got the James Patterson of gods.  The stories he wrote in the beginning weren’t even that good to begin with, and now he’s farming most of the work out to other authors.  Don’t worry though, he’ll still take all the credit.

God’s Journal 2: Regrets, I’ve had a few

Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption
I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way

-Me  (by way of creating Sinatra)

Dear God, it’s Me, God.

I’ve got to get something off my infinite chest.  I’ve made a few mistakes.  Not the least of which was claiming I’m perfect.  That really paints a guy in a corner.  Trust me. To err is human, but to not err?  So Boring.  So, I’m going to confess a few of my favorite mistakes to myself, say a few Hail Mommy’s and move on.

Full disclosure: St. Isidore of Perpetual Upgrades gave me this Ipad.  I hope it’s secure, it just feels so light compared to the tablets I’m used to writing on…

Mistake #1:  Women’s Rights.

Letting people describe me with the male pronoun was my first mistake.  What was I thinking?  That sends a message.  In terms of creation, it’s pretty insulting that I made Woman after I made Man.  I would have reversed the order, but Eve would have just kept telling me I was making him wrong!  Hey-O! Also, there really are other metaphors that I can use to describe my love for the church other than patriarchal society.  Anyway, I’m just not sure why I didn’t explain to the Israelites that women were just as intelligent and capable as men.  I mean, I had to make sure they ate animals that had cloven hooves and ruminated, sure.  But that doesn’t mean I had to leave off that they should treat women as peers.  Really though, and you’ll have to trust me when I say this, 4,000 years of inequality goes by really fast.

Mistake #2:  Genocide.

Why was I for this so much?  In my defense, though, those Midianites were complete dicks.  But even I was a little taken aback when Moses went all Dread Pirate Roberts “no survivors” on them (as I wrote about in Numbers 31).  He was just taking my lead though, so, in the end, I had to let it go.  You don’t pull a pitcher on a perfect game, and you don’t pull your prophet putting Jericho-ians on a pike.

Mistake #3:  Slavery

This one looks bad.  I get it.  This one’s on me.  But it’s hard to explain. It just sort of happened.  I mean, I’ve already essentially sequestered women to a slave state and made “foreign” people morally acceptable to murder. What am I going to do?  Get mad that they made them indentured servants?  As you can see, I didn’t have a lot of room to maneuver on this one.  It would have looked hypocritical.  That, sir, I will not do.  Plus, I like to think it had a lot to do with the economy of the time, lack of currency, etc.

Mistake #4:  One Nation

I know I’m omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent.  Everyone knows that.  But what people don’t know about me is that I’m a bit of a homebody.  I like to really settle down in one of the all places where I live.  I’m really just a Cush potato at heart.  I guess I could have appeared to some other peoples, burned some other bushes, but I like to just ride with the one nation who loves me the most.  America….you are on notice.  Prop 8?  More like Prop “ain’t” gonna be hanging out here much longer!

I’m going to have to thank myself for creating St. Isidore and making him the saint of technology.  This Ipad is fun.  What’s this Angry Birds “app”….oh! Thank me for inventing physics!  And the birds, and the catapults to shoot them, and……

-jon no h

Waiting for God, Do’h!

Recently, my blogging co-pilot John wrote a great article on how some of his friends took the news of his newly found atheism.  They were heartbroken, and John does an excellent job describing this in the context of Hell and how this threat of eternal separation affects those we care about.  But it’s not just an eternity of separation in hell that saddened his friends when they heard the news.  There’s another component as well.  I want to share with you a little play to illustrate the point.

Albert and Cameron (ages 30 and 31), two friends since middle school, bump into each other.  Both are waiting at a bus stop.

Al:  Cameron, how are you!  So good to see you! At the risk of over narrating, I’d say it’s been many months since we’ve seen each other!

Cameron:  Indeed it has. How’ve you been doing?

Al:  Well, honestly…I’ve been doing FANTASTIC.  Life is good; I feel free.  It’s like I’m thinking clearly for the first time in my life.  All the stress and psychological torment that used to bother me has just melted away.  Does that make sense?

Cameron:  Uh, not really.  What’s going on?  What’s changed?

Al:  Meth. I’m hear to tell you straight up, Cameron.  I need you to know, because we are old friends. Meth is awesome.  I’m getting more done at work.  I’ve don’t have to sleep anymore.  It’s seriously worth it.  I know what you’re going to say, I’m giving up a lot to pursue this path, but I’m telling you.  Life-changing.

Cameron:  Wow, uh…I had no idea.  Aren’t you worried about what your wife is going to think?  Wow. I don’t know what to say….

Al:  Oh, Samantha?  She loves Meth too!  It’s kind of drawn us closer actually.

Cameron:  Well, I guess I’m happy for you?  Oh….I think I hear my phone ringing.  (Answers phone) Buy! Sell!  Trade for some stocks that will be worth more in the future than they are now!  (Whispers while covering phone) …Sorry this is my mom I have to take it….

END SCENE

It is not possible for a christian to be happy for an atheist in his or her decision.  Their friend has made a life choice which is so fundamentally incompatible with their worldview that it is impossible to support in any way.  Here is a quick and dirty list of the things that Christians have exclusive rights to that their friend has just been alienated from:

Eternal Salvation, True Peace, True Joy, True Love, True Wisdom.

Christians claim an exclusive link to the “true” forms of these characteristics.  So, it’s no wonder that when their friends are cut off from those, then of course, that must sadden them.  They know how this is going to end for their friend.  The high you might be feeling now is going to come crashing down…

But it does more than that.  If you tell your christian friend you’re an atheist, the best thing that can happen for the christian is that you bottom out like a drug addict.  If meth didn’t cause psychosis and force you to look like an extra in the Walking Dead, it’d be sold at Wal-Mart, and we’d have it at Thanksgiving dinner with a side of cranberries.  Atheism must have side effects, or else it’s might just be a fun thing to do. So christians will need to look for side effects and this does two things:  Supports their worldview that everyone needs Jesus; that their exclusive hold on happiness and joy is true.  Plus, it gets you humbled and back on the path to god.

What’s worse is that for many atheists, christians actually have the power to bottom them out.  They aren’t simply content to sit by and watch. They take active roles.  In America, christianity is the dominant worldview (in some parts more than others of course).  They are friends, parents, co-workers, and bosses.  They all have the power to inflict social, economic, and psychological pressure.  It’s like an episode of Intervention.  The ultimatum: either get on the metaphorical bus waiting outside to take you to god, or risk losing their respect, love, time, and support.  So what’s it gonna be? The bus or breaking bad?

Biblical Marriage: Let’s Vote on it.

Biblical Marriage:  Let’s Vote on it.

I, for one, certainly don’t want an omnipotent god to be angry at me for allowing citizens to “know” one another in a loving committed way.  So, the only fair thing to do is vote for the concept of biblical marriage.  But before we vote, I think it behooves us to examine our terms.  What does Biblical Marriage look like exactly?  We need some ground rules. Ten Commandments, if you will…

Rule 1: Divorce should be Illegal.

  • Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5; Mark 10:7; 1 Cor. 7:10-11, 27, Luke 16:18; Mark 10:11-12

Rule 2:  Husbands have authority over Wives. (Analogy:  God=Men, Humans=Women)

  • Gen. 3:16; 1 Cor. 11:3, 7-9; Eph. 5:23, 1 Pet. 3:7

Rule 3:  Widows under 60 years old must remarry (and I assume miraculously) have children or they will turn to Satan and become busybodies.

  • 1 Timothy 5:11-15

Rule 4:  Childless widows must marry their brother-in-laws.

  • Deut 25:5; Matt. 22:24

Rule 5:  Women suspected of cheating must drink evil cursed water that damages their genitals.

  • Numbers 5:11-31 

Rule 6:  Women not virgins at marriage are to be murdered.  (In this way, only very short marriages of non-virgins are allowed.)

  •  Deut. 22:14-21

Rule 7:  Women who are divorced from their first husband, and marry a second husband, and are divorced by the second husband can never remarry the first husband.  (This law applies to no one as it violates Rule #1).

  • Deut. 24:1-4

Rule 8:  Anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.  (This violates both laws #7 and #1.  However, I believe these cancel each other out. Making Rule 8 valid.)

  • Matt. 5:32

Rule 9:  During wartimes, men can kidnap any women that they want to marry.  As a favor to them, lock them up for one month before the marriage is made final.  (Back out at any time, but don’t sell her, as that would be cruel.)

  •  Deut. 21:10-14

Rule 10:  Men can have multiple wives, mistresses, and slaves.

  • Exodus 21:10, Deuteronomy 21:15-17, really any major OT character

Bonus Rule (to replace Rule 7 which is invalid due to technicality)  No interracial marriage!

  • Gen. 28:6; Exod. 34:15-16; Num. 25:6-11; Deut. 7:1-3; Josh. 23:12-13; Judges 3:5-8; 1 Kings 11:1-2; Ezra 9:1-2, 12; Ezra 10:2-3, 10-11; Neh. 10:30; Neh. 13:25-27

So what do you say?  Let’s vote for biblical marriage in America.  In this economy, we can’t afford to turn our back on god.  You know how he gets when he’s jealous.  Because at this rate, he’s surely going to make us drink the metaphorical genital shrinking water of economic recession (or the metaphorical economic recession of genital shrinking…one can never be sure).

-Jon no H

Don’t touch my God Shaped Hole

Before you can sell the solution, you’ve got to sell the problem. Infomercial formula: Black and white reenactments of ham-fisted actors bumbling around trying desperately to do some difficult household chore like cut a tomato or eat a grape.  Then, WHAMO!, the product of your dreams appears in Technicolor through the magic of television.  Those days of frustration you felt for not having sleeves in your blanket are as outdated as a Dobie Gillis episode.

In order for you to buy a cure, you need to be convinced you’re sick.  Beauty products aren’t beauty products anymore, they’ve been renamed health products.  More urgent that way, and their advertisements reflect it. –Open with wide shot of our avatar sitting on the patio of a cafe, sunlight reflecting off the glassware.  Opposite gendered person approaches in modern but professional apparrel.  Camera zooms in close to reveal startling health concern.  Everyone is so embarrassed!–  These things usually involve a woman on a blind date with someone who looks like David Beckham if he tried harder and worked out some more.   How did she get to this crucial moment in her life and not realize she has thinnish eyelashes, a skin blemish, and/or an intractable case of “not looking exactly like Sofia Vergara”.  Then, she realizes, she can either become agoraphobic and ring church bells for the rest of her life or….

For me the first time I realized how marketing worked was teeth whitening.  As a kid, I had no idea teeth were supposed to look as white as an 81/2 by 11.  (Full disclosure, I’m male.  I know I’ve got it easy when it comes to the media vs. body image thing.)  But for me, as a coffee addict, the white teeth sales pitch got me.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve plenty of other hang ups, but I wasn’t around the genesis of those.  I got to see people go from archaic sepia-tones to sand-blasted porcelain in just a matter of a few years.  It’s like carbon dating.  You can tell how old a movie is by examining actor teeth.  I remember thinking to myself, I’m being sold a disease and no amount of conscious effort can forestall it infecting my brain.

Enough preamble.  The God-shaped hole is one of the laziest arguments you’ll ever encounter. So lazy you’ll swear Pascal must have thought it up.  Oh wait.  He did. (along with Augustine and CS Lewis).  It states that we have a desire to experience greater things and to have order in the world, THEREFORE, there must be a greater experience than this one.  Because we want more, there must be more.  The proof is in the problem.

1.  It’s not biblical.  The evidence to support this claim is weak with regard to the holy book.  Acts 22:27 is basically the one go to verse.  It’s Paul’s pitch to the Greeks who have a statue to “an unknown god”.  Guess what?  That unknown god is God!  He made you humans look all around for him (and then presumably give up and just call him unknown for a few thousand years).  That’s promising.  But wait… Romans 3:11 states that “no one is righteous, no one seeks god“.  Oops.  In using the sales pitch of sin, Paul screwed up his sales pitch of God searching.

2.  It’s lazy as hell.  Imagine a commercial that said you had a cheese pizza shaped hole in your life.  You could try and fill it with hamburgers and tacos, but you will never be satisfied.  That’s as subtle and well thought out as a Robin Williams punchline.  BUY PIZZA, WHY?  BECAUSE YOU WERE MADE TO EAT PIZZA!  Na-Nu Na-Nu.

3.  It’s condescending.  Christians are whole.  I’ve got a hole.  They have joy, I’ve got to settle for being happy.  Basically, christians have the Renee Zellweger of God to complete them.  All I’ve got to settle for is “Kwan”.

4.  It’s ineffectual.  Christians don’t stop buying things.  In fact, they LOVE shit.  They can’t get enough of it.  Bigger churches, houses, cars, everything.  Step one in “planting” a new church is hiring a minister with designer jeans and an Ipad to stand up in front of an IMAX screen while rock music shakes the coffee in the cup holders.  How am I the one who is desperately trying to fill my God shaped hole with what the material world has to offer?  (Feel free to counter with Christians are imperfect or those are bad Christians.  Or that they are using those tactics only to lure in non-believers.  Sacrifice = For christians so love the world that they eat a free donut for you.)

5. CS Lewis (I like his writing) wrote one embarrassingly bad thing with this: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”  Seriously. He used the word PROBABLE.  Hey CS, those Occam’s Razors aren’t disposable.

6.  (Anecdotal, I know) I’m happier now than when I was a christian.

7.  It’s quite vague.  People say that materialism and the fact that lots of cultures have established gods are proof of a god shaped hole.  These seem really different to me.  Which do you find more convincing?  Then it’s that one.

8. Teeth whitening wouldn’t have worked if there wasn’t some truth to it.  Social shame, a desire to be young, and sexual attractiveness are real things and when they are associated with bleach trays, it moves bleach trays.  I’m not arguing that.  But it’s backwards.  Sexual attraction isn’t proof that bleach trays exist.  As my blogmate John quoted, that fact that I desire something isn’t proof that it exists. I almost don’t have a problem with them using the fact that humans have problems and frustrations to sell god (if there was a god and he could demonstrate a decent percentage rate of fixing those problems).  But showing me a problem and then using that problem as proof of the existence of a solution is naive and not very realistic.  Just think.  How did all those people live for thousands of years without Crest Whitening Toothpaste?  Surely, their yellow teeth was a sign that gel exists with which to cure it!

All that said, sometimes I think people do have God shaped holes.  And only christians fill them. We all have two of them, and they led to our eardrums.  (I kid!)

Prove me wrong.  Leave a comment!

Focus on the Family Quote Day!

Focus on the Family Quote Day!

It’s time for everyone’s favorite segment, Focus on the Family Quote day!   Let’s get to it….

From Jim Daly (President of Focus on the Family) Blog about the motives of political assassination and how it relates to idolatry.

Yeah, that’s right.  We have finally found the common linking variable between all serial killers and political assassins. Surprisingly, it’s unrelated to middle names or Catcher in the Rye novels.  It’s not being Christian enough.  I say we start rounding those non-christian (or as I like to call them “pre-shooters” or “demon-incubators”) up.

We are just getting started and I’m already demoralized.

This next one is in two parts.  One quote from an email (I subscribe to Focus on the Family emails. Don’t judge me.) and one from a corresponding blog post.

PREFACE:  You have to understand that “Citizenlink” is the political arm of Focus on the Family.  They have a clear agenda, but unfortunately for them they also have a non-profit status.  That means they can’t actually say, “Let’s all go vote for the Great White Mormon Hope”.  They have to be much more nuanced.  It’s an amazing high-wire act to watch.  I have selected two quotes for you to look over as well as the IRS law. I’ll let you, the viewer at home, decide if they are walking the line.  The following is from an email entitled:  Criticism of the Chief.  And it’s about Justice CHIEF Roberts.  High wire stuff, it’s really fun to watch.  It’s by Tim Minnery, Senior VP of Government & Public Policy (Fancy!).  He quietly mentions what “several Republicans” are waiting for and then calls us to action:

The next one is from Bruce Hausknecht on the same subject:


Boom!  Non-Partisan Roast! Maybe that’s why he’s not a Senior VP of anything yet….Anyway, here’s the boring portion:

Thoughts?

-Jon with no h

Links:

http://www.focusonlinecommunities.com/blogs/Finding_Home/2012/07/03/tebow-kardashian-and-our-worship-of-idols

http://www.citizenlink.com/2012/07/02/dig-deeper-chief-justice-is-catching-flak-over-his-obamacare-decision-does-he-deserve-it/

http://www.irs.gov/charities/charitable/article/0,,id=163395,00.html

Hades Stands Alone

Hades Stands Alone

Religion in its earliest forms seems created to gain power over the unknown. Complex systems such as weather patterns, crop harvests, and neighboring societies were all less fearsome given their subordinate position to the gods who created them. This was the ambition of the early religious, to find power and control over the physical world. It was not a spiritual, inner quest, but an outer confrontational one. The soliloquy undiscovered, only the dialogue of a man and a chorus. Man against Man and Man against Nature. Dominion over the unknown, by befriending the personification of unrevealed life altering variables. It gave courage by limiting the inherent fear of limitless potential. Fear like a child in the impetus of dark, its imagination full of inertia, unable to curtail possibilities. The courage it engendered was successful for some societies, a failure for others. Ultimately, we face the ancient religions with a wry smile and the confident words of the parent, convincing their child that there is no need for heroes in a world with no monsters.

Lately, spirituality is an end to itself. The firing gun and the finish line. This is a natural evolution. As science encroaches on the unknown, the gods lose dominion. So many outer otherness garrisons and forts falling to data, so that only the most complex strongholds are left for the gods to take refuge. What is more complex than ourselves? Here a god could still make a stand. Issuing edicts of fired synapses to cover their retreat. An inner dialogue alone, for we are the last bit of complex tools available for the gods to do work. But for how long? Doctors surround this stronghold as well, and are finding cracks in the wall. Would you have a friend struggling with depression visit a priest or physician? Both? Will the gods then lose even the brain, to reside only in an unquantifiable soul?

If gods were to be evicted from even this location, there will always be a home for them in death. The greatest of the unknowns, where, like a black hole, no bit of data can emerge. This god is the landlord of the dead, alone, and perhaps happy to receive the company.