Gospel Disproof #55: The God who could not count to three

One of the differences between a true story and a made-up story is that the made-up story is not consistent with anything that actually happened in the real world. In fact, that’s the essence of what it means to be a made up story. As a consequence of that difference, the made-up story has something else that the true story does not: spontaneous inventions.

For example, let’s consider the curious incident of the Messiah in the tomb.

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Gospel Disproof #54: The wages of sin

There’s an old saying (frequently attributed to Mark Twain) that goes something like this: “Tell the truth. It’s easier.” Or alternately, “Tell the truth, there’s less to remember.” The trouble with untruths is that they never quite line up with reality, which means you have to keep lying in order to cover up the discrepancies. And even then you still have problems. It’s just too darn hard to keep one lie from exposing another.

Take, for example, Romans 6:23: “The wages of sin is death.” According to the Bible, we’re all sinners, and that means we all deserve to die. But (the Gospel tells us) we can escape God’s judgment because Jesus paid the price for us, by dying in our place. His death pays the penalty for our sins, so now we can go to Heaven essentially for free. In fact, that’s the whole reason Jesus died in the first place: because he wanted us to go to Heaven, and that couldn’t happen unless there was a death to pay for our sins.

There’s just one little problem with this simple, appealing story. We still die. Believers die, unbelievers die, agnostics die, everybody dies. And that means everybody pays the price of sin anyway, even without Jesus’s help. So what do we need Jesus for?

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Gospel Disproof #52: Christians and cannibals

One of the early accusations against Christians was that they were cannibals who practiced ritual human sacrifice and then devoured their victims in secret rites hidden away among the catacombs. If you’re familiar with the Christian sacrament of communion and its meaning, it’s easy to see how such a rumor could get started. The cup that Christians drink is a sharing in the blood of Jesus, and those who eat the bread are eating his body as well, at least according to the liturgy. The language and terminology they use is certainly the vocabulary of cannibals and vampires, and Christians attach great importance and reverence to that vocabulary. Small wonder, then, that some people took them for wanna-be cannibals and vampires.

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Gospel Disproof #51: No good arguments for God

I’m going to piggyback off an excellent post by The Uncredible Hallq on the topic of whether there are any good arguments for God. You often hear Christian apologists protest that, when you disprove Apologetic Argument X, you still have not disproved the existence of God, because you haven’t addressed Apologetic Argument Y (and when you address Y, then they’ll claim you need to address Z, etc. etc.). All the apologist has to do is keep drawing one more line in the sand, indefinitely, in order to claim that the skeptic has failed to cross the right one.

Despite this ingenious exercise in goalpost-moving, though, the nature of the arguments themselves is enough to establish the fact that there are no good (i.e. valid and reliable) arguments for the existence of a deity like the Christian God.

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Gospel Disproof #50: Verbal answers to prayer

Here’s an interesting experiment you can try, at least if you’re living in America and I assume most other countries as well. Get a dollar bill (or equivalent local currency) but don’t look at it. Printed on that bill is a serial number. Ask God to tell you what that number is, and write down what He tells you. Then compare it to the number that is actually on the bill. Did God get it right?

Verbal answers to prayer are one example of a whole class of things you can ask God for that He will never be able to give you. Believers, naturally, have built up a vast network of excuses and rationalizations for why this should be so. For example, they will tell you that God takes offense when you ask for things like that—that you’re asking with wrong motives, that you’re testing Him, that you’re even rebelling against Him. And yet, these excuses run exactly counter to what believers think prayer is supposed to be.

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Gospel Disproof #49: Maimed in heaven

In Mark 9:43-48, Jesus is reported to have said:

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, [where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, [where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.

The idea of eternal punishment offends a lot of people today, even among believers. And not just today, either—a number of the ancient Church Fathers tried to soften this doctrine by turning it into a kind of pre-Catholic purgatory, where sinners go to get the sin burned out of them so that they then can enter into the eternal blessings of heaven. But Jesus wasn’t one to try and accommodate what you might call the harsh teachings of Christianity with the nice-guy sensibilities of the meek and moral. All of his reported teachings on hell, like the passage above, assume that once you’re thrown into hell, you stay there.

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Gospel Disproof #48: A Christmas story

I’m currently re-reading the Terry Pratchett Discworld series, and have made it as far as Hogfather, Pratchett’s decidedly warped perspective on old Father Christmas (or as we Americans would call him, Santa). For some reason this reminded me of a famous quote: “If you understand why you do not believe in everyone else’s gods, then you’ll understand why I do not believe in yours.” It’s pithy, but imperfect, because so many believers have really warped reasons for rejecting other gods. (Justin Martyr, for instance, once explained to Caesar that Jupiter and the other Roman deities were really demons pretending to be gods, in order to lead people to hell.)

With that in mind, I’d like to propose an updated version of the original quote: once you understand why you do not believe in Santa, you’ll understand why I do not believe in Jesus. I know, it’s flawed too (don’t try it on Jews or Muslims, for example). But I think it might be a bit more effective with Christians than the original.

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Gospel Disproof #47: The Bad Master

In Matthew 24 and Luke 12, Jesus is reported to have told a very interesting parable.

And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master will be a long time in coming,’ and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.

Like all parables, this is a story that’s supposed to be relevant to people’s everyday lives, and that highlights some important principle about how we relate to God. What’s interesting is that, even though the point of the parable is to encourage us to obey God (the master), Jesus ends up painting a pretty negative picture of what kind of master God really is. He had to, though, in order to keep the parable realistic.

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Gospel Disproof #46: On the proper use of beer and religion

In the book of Proverbs, chapter 31, we are instructed as to the proper use of beer and wine.

Let beer be for those who are perishing,
wine for those who are in anguish!
Let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more.

Part of the attraction of alcoholic beverages is that alcohol physically deadens the brain, starting with the parts that allow you to perceive and reason clearly. If life is good, you don’t necessarily want that, because it diminishes your ability to experience and appreciate the good things available to you. But if life basically sucks, then maybe you are better off being too drunk to know it, just like the Bible says. On the other hand, some of us might suggest you’d be better off improving your life instead of just stupifying yourself to the point that you can no longer see how bad it really is.

What’s interesting is that you sometimes hear Christians arguing that their faith plays a similar role to beer and wine. What harm is there in faith, they ask, if it makes people feel better about their lives? Let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.

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