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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.
Most things that require more than 2 minutes or ten sentences to explain are bullshit.
This is a rule you can live by and do well. It’s not definitely bullshit, but it’s VERY likely. Almost certainly. Ask a car salesman what undercoating is and why it’s important and why it costs 900 dollars. See how long the explanation takes. Then ask a physicist what String Theory is. Just a basic understanding, please. You’ll get less than 10 sentences and two minutes. Trust me, undercoating is not more complex than String Theory.
Regardless of what you believe, you can live by this one as a rule with exceptions few and far between.
Try it yourself right now. Stop reading this, and explain, out loud, or in writing, how Santa works. Explain it as if you’re attempting to convince someone. How long did it take? Try describing a pyramid scheme in a convincing way. As if you’re trying to convince someone to get in on it with you. Try to be concise, but don’t stop until you think you’ve made at least a half compelling argument.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t talk about something for longer than that, or if someone talks longer than that, they’re full of it. It doesn’t mean every college class is B.S. (I should probably mention that because I’m over ten now.) I’m now describing and proving this. Lot’s of things take a very long time to describe and expand upon. That’s not explanation. I did consider just making this post the initial one-sentence rule and nothing more. It can easily be done and you get what I’m saying.
Ask a physicist to teach you to understand String Theory and what we know about it in detail, and you’d be there for awhile. It’s complex. But a simple, concise explanation is possible. It’s not possible with Santa… not in a way that’s at all convincing. Explain String Theory in less than ten sentences and in response you’ll get “Whoa!” Explain Santa in less than ten and the response will be more like “Huh?”
In closing, I’m going to prove this one last time. I’m going to respond to the most complex question I can think of, with an answer that’s not bullshit, that anyone should be content with, and it only takes one sentence. When I finish that sentence, I will be content with my answer, feel confident that it’s right, and feel confident in the knowledge that anyone going through life, could use this answer as a means for having peace about this incredibly complex and relevant question. Are you ready?
John, (I ask myself.) How were we created, was it intentional, and why are we here? In fact, why is anything here?
(See? I’m not pulling any punches!)
(Here comes my answer!)
(Are you feeling the suspense?)
John, (I respond to myself…)
I don’t know.
That just took one sentence. I’ve got nine left. What the hell? I’ll use two more, just to REALLY address the question in depth.
Just do your best. That’s all anyone can ask of you.
Most things that require more than 2 minutes or ten sentences to explain are bullshit.
Have a great day…
An interesting article was brought to my attention today by a good friend of mine. It was from a blog called “The Christian Left.” Their “Our Mission” page says that they are a politically liberal or left-leaning group of christian believers, and they believe Jesus was more left-leaning than not. The article was a biblical study of when life begins. Of course when you hear the phrase “when life begins” your mind immediately turns either to the age 40, or to the ongoing controversy on abortion rights. You can read the article here, and I highly recommend it. The article makes some great points and if I WAS a christian, I would have a lot to think about as it pertains to the abortion debate. That being said, I’m not one, and this was my response to Frank, (also an atheist.) who posted the link as food for thought.
This is interesting, Frank, and I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, this is the kind of thinking that helps draw religion forward into a more compassionate and realistic co-existence with humanity, albeit kicking and screaming. Just as religion once planted it’s flag in any number of incorrect scientific claims, and then subsequently abandoned those claims long after they had become laughable, it may do so on the issues of homosexuality and reproductive rights. That should make life easier, and politics and philosophical discussions more rational and bearable.
On the other hand, this is the kind of adaptation (from a God who continually claims to never change.) that allows religion to continue skittering across the kitchen floor and into the shadows and away from the bottom of our boots. The moderate, loving, respectable believer is truly the problematic one because they defy identification as irrational, give safe harbor to their fanatical brethren by being an example of “positive religion,” and all while poorly living out the violent and nonsensical demands of their petulant Father.
I understand that I’m preaching to the choir (strange choice of metaphor, I know, lol.) when I say this, but if it turns out that this is true… that in reality the Bible tells us that a fetus becomes a living soul at birth and breath, wouldn’t that mean that God has allowed us as a people to kill one another, to ostracize one another, and to demonize one another, all for a belief that was actually in error? A misinterpreted belief that he could have easily clarified for us either through his word, or through revelation, or through the mouths of the preachers he directs… and he just… umm… didn’t? Slipped his mind? Perhaps like with Abraham he just wanted to see if we’d kill each other for him? Just chalk up one more in the uncountable list of plain-as-day, clear-as-the-nose-on-my-face examples that IT.JUST.AINT.SO.
I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts, (you out there.) both atheists, agnostics, and believers on two things. First, your thoughts on the article itself, which I know is both controversial and thought-provoking for any christian that would read it, as a former believer. Secondly, how do you as a believer especially, reconcile this changing, evolving God with the understanding that God is unchanging and has both the power and the will to be near to us, but continues to allow his message to be confused, misinterpreted, and debated over the years? If you agree with the article, then as I said in the comment, God has been allowing all this bloodshed and anger and sadness over a misinterpretation. If you don’t believe the article, then, at least for these people, God is allowing them to believe murder is okay, and not communicating to them the truth in a way that they can understand. It will lead them and others to murder.
Over the years God has allowed his believers to believe and preach that:
-slavery is okay.
-Segregation is okay.
-Crusading (Holy War.) is okay.
-The world is flat.
-The world is the center of the Universe.
-The Sun is the center of the Universe.
…and that’s really just off the top of my head. And I was nice enough to not pick on the Young-Earth Creationists for once, but they’re in there too. Sometimes for hundreds of years believers and churches have preached both the truth of the above things, and the evils of thinking otherwise. Then ‘poof’ the church just changes. The church, which is supposed to be in touch with God, who loves us, knows all, and wants a close relationship with us… just… changes. How can you reconcile that?
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
Is this article that greets me this morning hopeful? Or discouraging? Or both? A french newspaper is running cartoons of Mohammed. As I said above, they’re standing up to the bully. And this is what we need… the entire class must stand up to him for him to finally back down.
On the other hand, CNN is asking in the headline: “Free Speech or Incitement?” And just the presence of that question, regardless of how it is answered, is discouraging. Really, you guys? Maybe Islam should just win in this? When their argument is to riot, threaten, and kill? The suggestion that perhaps this is incitement is a way of laying the blame at the feet of those wishing to express their opinions about this religion. It is no different than saying “She was asking for it, dressing like that!”
We have to decide that violence will NEVER be a winning argument on a global scale. Never. I know violence is how we have historically solved our most difficult conflicts between nations, I know war is basically our global Judge Judy. That’s pretty discouraging. But if violence can stifle discussion, and guns start winning arguments, then they will start becoming the most common arguments. And all of my geological, astronomical, philosophical, and logical evidence can’t out-argue a pistol.
There’s a scene in the teen movie “Can’t Hardly Wait” where the bully Mike Dexter has been shown up in front of the entire school. Everyone suddenly starts laughing at this guy who was a king for the previous four years. He helplessly yells to a room of hundreds, “I’LL KICK EVERYONE’S ASS IN THIS ROOM!” Which only increases the laughter as he skulks away.
That’s Islam. If we ALL agree to laugh, and not respect the threat, that’s Islam. Maybe he punches one or two people as he skulks out, but he WILL skulk out, and the blood is on his hands, not ours. And we can’t stop that without sacrificing much, much more.
-John with an H
P.S.- And by the way, if any of you think Christianity is beyond going this same direction, you’re crazy. Check your history. This is a religion thing, not an Islamic thing. I promise you that. This has to do with the proposition that there are eternal, invisible things that supersede visible, knowable things, and that there are things more important than large scale suffering and death. Anytime you have that cocktail (a virtual pre-requisite for religion.) You have the potential for this sort of thing. One religion may be more prone to it than others, but it can happen, and will happen, wherever this concept is common. (i.e. religion.)
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” -James 1:2-4
At this moment U.S. embassies around the world are under protest or attack. For once, it is not because of economic oppression, or exploitation, although those realities may fan the flames. We are under protest globally, because someone here in the U.S. has expressed an opinion that Islam, a religion, would like to suppress. A film maker produced an anti-islamic film in the United States. I have not seen it, only read about it. I can’t speak intelligently to this film’s content, or to the motivations behind it. It does sound as if the film maker is not an atheist, but a religious zealot under a different flag.
Already though, the news stories I’ve read regarding him are overwhelmingly negative. They recount his 2009 conviction for bank fraud, which seems completely unrelated to a film he made that’s sparking protest. CNN’s article refers to the film as clunky (it has no merit! Don’t see it! Two thumbs down!), and describes how it was cast under false pretenses, as actors were told they were making a desert-action film. Then they add this:
“The American-made movie, it turns out, was hardly an innocent desert action flick.”
How is expressing an opinion on a religion less innocent than any other mainstream genre of film?
Daniel Akin, the pastor of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. tweeted this today:
“Films ridiculing any religion are shameful & uncalled for. Responding in violence & murdering innocents is criminal, deplorable & worse!”
I’m glad he at least clarified that the latter is worse than the former. Thanks, Daniel. So, our blog is not a film, but I can assume that regardless of format, Daniel would describe this blog as both shameful and uncalled for. BUT not quite as bad as murdering innocents.
Daniel, this is my opinion. For my co-blogger and I, this is our best effort towards doing what we believe is right. This is our equivalent of your call to evangelize to others. It is not shameful. It completely conflicts with your views, but we don’t deny your right to worship, or pray, or to evangelize. We have an opinion that it’s wrong-headed. But I would never describe what you do as “shameful.” Shame on you though, for suggesting that while there are many different religions, to not respect religion is shameful. Gods do not corner the market on morality.
Atheists, agnostics… non-religious deists… We are finding out where we stand in some of this. While this film is not an atheist message, it is receiving the sort of push back that we can expect when we start to gain the kind of traction worldwide that will start moving cultural and religious needles.
I believe that time is coming soon. There’s too much knowledge, too much science to deny… Too much widespread information… Too many honest, good-intentioned, thinking people among the religious. We’re going to continue to grow. When we do, we can expect these warring religions to turn their attention towards us.
Let’s imagine that there is a Chik-Fil-A, and a KFC. They are in a neighborhood in America somewhere, and they are across the street from one another. Their ad campaigns generally center around how one brand of chicken tastes better than the other, or is better for you than the other, or is less bigoted than the other. But then, let’s say a combination salad bar/pilates studio moves in next door. Suddenly, people get on a health kick and start skipping chicken altogether. They get a fresh salad and they get a short workout in on their lunch hour. People start losing weight, feeling better about themselves, and Chik-Fil-A and KFC both start seeing tumbleweeds rolling past their doors. Would it be any wonder at all if the ad campaigns stopped comparing two brands of chicken and started denigrating the value and flavor of a fresh salad and a workout? That’s what the media’s depiction of this represents. That’s what Christianity’s response to this represents. You don’t have to eat my chicken says God… but you gotta eat chicken. The hell I do… Pass the croutons.
Christianity doesn’t want you to choose Islam, Islam doesn’t want you to choose Christianity. (And you can substitute whatever religions you want here.) But if you do, they can despise or lament your choice, but you don’t threaten them. You’re in the game, you’re just playing wrong. But, the atheist is breaking the game. He’s choosing not to play. That creates a new option that threatens everyone. Thus a film like the horrifically violent and arguably anti-semitic The Passion of the Christ is seen by some as problematic, or even troublesome, but by most as a respectable expression of a religious opinion. But a film that disrespects a religion directly is shameful. You can bet that a film that is an expression of atheist beliefs would be seen as shameful as well.
Consider this: I recently asked if I could leave work an hour early, and was asked why I wanted to do so. I told my manager that I was signed up to work at the Atheist/Free-thinkers booth at the State Fair. His response was to sarcastically joke: “Well at least it’s for a good cause…”
If I had said that I was working a booth of ANY religious group, even a radical booth… likely if I’d told him I was going to go to a protest and shout at women going into an abortion clinic… I likely wouldn’t have received that remark. But he said it without thinking about it. The thing is, I DO believe it’s a good cause. It’s implied that atheism is a bad thing. It’s understood. Discounting the religious views of others or even arguing logically against them is disrespectful and wrong. Even if it’s part of your belief system.
Yes, atheists, I’ll say it one more time. For you to express your belief that religion is wrong, or a bad idea, or that being apart from religion entirely is a good thing that others should try… is disrespectful and wrong.
So while embassies burn, and people are killed, and a religion tries to bully the world into shutting up and living by their rules, I want to express my support for this bank-frauding, name-changing, allegedly Coptic Christian, and his badly made film. We have a right to say what we want to say without being pushed around. When someone is murdered in retaliation, it is to the shame of the murderer, NOT the opinion-expresser.
You can have your views, you can worship your gods, but you can’t force me to respect it. The best way to combat this bullying is to stand up to the bully. No one wants to do it first, because they’re afraid of getting hit, but if everyone does it, the bully can’t beat up everyone… and eventually the bully is proven to be a coward, and he just slinks away. If we all stand up, radical islam will slink away. Don’t be afraid of the violence. Even the famously non-violent Mohandas K. Gandhi said:
“I would risk violence a thousand times rather than risk the emasculation of a whole race.”
There is nothing wrong with someone displaying an image of the prophet of Islam. There is nothing wrong with me disrespecting him. Your response as a muslim if you disagree with me should be to patiently tell me why you feel that way, and to listen to why I think we disagree. And for us to understand each other. It’s a testament to the bullying that’s taking place here that I asked my co-blogger how he felt about me posting this image before I did it. It’s a testament to the limitations of violence that we both are willing to stand up to the bully. We encourage all of you on your blogs, on your TV shows, in your art, and mainly just in your day-to-day free speech, to do the same. Speak freely. Listen to each other. Put violence away, and listen to each other. And only shout to shout down violence. Then be calm again, and let’s work together and learn.
And for good measure…
Jesus Tap-Dancing Christ.
Voldemort, Voldemort, Voldemort.
Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice.
Respectfully, as always, to you the believer, but not as a participant in your beliefs,
-John with an H.