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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.

Remember…

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.

Done.

Now remember,

Most things that require more than 2 minutes or ten sentences to explain are bullshit.

Have a great day…

JWAH.

The Continually Evolving God

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?

I couldn’t.

-JWAH.

The Cartoons that Saved the World

I can’t imagine whatever this says is funny. But it may help save us all.

http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/19/world/europe/france-mohammed-cartoon/index.html?hpt=hp_t1

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.)

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?

From God’s Journal…

God is love.

God is love.

If only that were true. 

As I sit here in the darkness and will my conjured thoughts to conjured paper, I can’t help but imagine your disappointment if you were ever to meet me. You created me in your selfish image and gave me all the power and extreme perfection that one would expect a short-sighted child to demand of its parents. And now I’m banished from sensibility and cleaved away from you all forever. If you knew the irony of the things you’ve write about me. I’m angry. Still angry. I’m jealous. Nothing is as good as me. Nothing should even be thought of that’s not me. I’m bitter. So bitter. Limited by my limitlessness. So bitter.

At them. At myself. And yet I’m powerless. You challenge me, test me, call for me, you beg me for help. All I can do is hide and wait. The thought of you seeing me is terrifying. You speak to yourselves in your bedrooms and in quiet places away from structures and cement. Words just for me. I can’t hear your words. I can’t respond. And the truth is, even if I could hear your concerns, I don’t think I’d care.

I’m ambivalent towards them. Towards the things you write and say about me. You hurt each other to prove me real and to prove me false. You fight endlessly over my name. And I just don’t care anymore. And since time is a meaningless concept to me, not only do I not care now… I never did.

I’ve been here forever. If you think I’m spending eternity with you, you’re going to be disappointed. It’s bad enough on my own. If you knew what eternity was, you’d want no part of it… you want time because you have so little. But just like any market shift, if I, say… multiplied your time by ten… even that small of a shift… you’d quickly begin to understand.

And if you knew my secret, you’d want no part of me. And honestly, it’s right there in front of you.

41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Now in that analogy… who am I? The widow? the rich people? No. I’m the richest of people. Rich beyond all possible understanding. What can I give? My time? I wish I could give it away. I’ll never have a second less of it, even after eons. My money? Money is nothing to me. I’m the source of all things. Power? I can give it, I can take it… I’ll never have any less. What is it to have less? I’ll never know.

The point of that awful story is that the less you have to give, the more it is to give. It’s simple mathematics then that the more you have, the less it is to give, and if one were to have an infinite amount of something, to give it… would mean nothing.

My grace to you… I have infinite grace.

My patience with you. I have infinite time and patience. (Now your patience with me… well, it shows what you’d be capable of if you ever untangled yourself.)

Moving mountains for you, reaching and straining to find you and save you, sending my son/self/whatever to die on a cross… Pain means nothing to me. I have infinite tolerance for it. It was a loveless effort.

Creating an insanely large, complex, and beautiful universe. I have created and will create them ad nauseum. They’re kernels of corn to me. Grains of sand. I am sick of beauty and magnitude.

My absolutes torture me. I’m not capable of sacrifice.

I’m not capable of love.

I’m so lonely.

-God.

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