Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!

This Sunday we’ll be examining some hymn lyrics. The background will be orthodox Christian doctrine: That man is faulty and requires salvation. The price chosen and dictated by Yahweh is execution/blood sacrifice of a perfect human. Jesus, sent from god, is that sinless human who represents the “spotless lamb” so often sacrificed by Hebrews in antiquity. His torture and death are intended as compensation to Yahweh, who otherwise would refuse to tolerate a flawed human being in his presence (in Heaven). So, Yahweh appeased himself by having humans offer up the bloody human sacrifice of Jesus to Him. And Yahweh is now willing to allow humans into His presence, so long as the humans believe this doctrine and agree they have failed to the point that only execution would be sufficient justice. The upshot is supposed to be that Jesus was brought back to life a few days later—as a sign that you, too, can come back from the dead and live forever with god, since Jesus did the dying for us all and paid the price for our “sin.”

The selected lyrics that follow represent the relevant parts of hymns that “celebrate” this doctrine and are commonly sung in pews across America. Next time you’re in a church, pick up a hymnal and give it a read if you want to see how Christians view their own beliefs.

“Amazing Grace”
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

“Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed?”
Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?

An interesting point about this lyric is that I found a Web site online that changed the final line of that verse to “for sinners such as I?” They expressed the decision as so:

http://www.drurywriting.com/keith/wretch.worm.htm
>Basically we think of ourselves as fairly nice people who became Christians and added meaning to our lives
>There are far more choir members singing songs of self-esteem than Reformers singing songs of total depravity. Since we’ve already rejected their “worm theology” we just ignore their warnings. We continue to preach a happy face doctrine of self esteem.

What I found particularly interesting about this was that they did not change any of the other lyrics in this hymn, which still holds that humans are so unacceptable, in god’s opinion, that only execution could possibly appease Yahweh as compensation for their present sinful state. So, I’m not a worm, I’m actually a basically good person that god will only accept if someone is executed in my stead. Here are more lyrics from the same hymn, that they don’t feel any need to alter, to demonstrate my point:

Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!

So, they agree that whatever they’re “guilty” of requires someone to be executed, and that’s justice. But they’re “good people”—and were “good people,” even before they “became Christians.” Everyone clear on that?

“Not All The Blood Of Beasts”
Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace
Or wash away the stain.

But Christ, the heav’nly Lamb,
Takes all our sins away;
A sacrifice of nobler name
And richer blood than they.

Believing, we rejoice
To see the curse remove;
We bless the Lamb with cheerful voice,
And sing His bleeding love.

“Nothing but the Blood”
Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Nothing can for sin atone,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
Naught of good that I have done,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

And just in case you don’t know how happy a human sacrifice and an execution can be, here’s a little reminder:

“Calvary’s Stream Is Flowing”
From that dear cross where Jesus died,
Calv’ry’s stream is flowing;
From bleeding hands and feet and side,
Calv’ry’s stream is flowing.

With life and peace upon its tide,
Calv’ry’s stream is flowing;
Sweet blessings down the ages glide,
Calv’ry’s stream is flowing.

What could be more of a cause for exuberance than the image of “sweet blessings” gliding down a streaming tide of blood flowing from a condemned man’s body as he dies in agony?

What could, indeed. Perhaps the image of diving into a pool of blood, fed by a stream of blood flowing from the mountain upon which a man was executed, to wash yourself clean as “snow”?

“It Cleanseth Me”
There is a stream that flows from Calvary,
A crimson tide so deep and wide.
It washes whiter than the purest snow;
It cleanseth me, I know.

No other fountain can for sin atone
But Jesus’ blood, O precious flood!
And whosoever will may plunge therein,
And be made free from sin.

But bear in mind that god only demanded this brutal compensation because of his great love and mercy—but you could never deserve it. After all, what you deserve, again, is death. That’s why you need to be willing to sacrifice anything and everything in your life and in this world, in order to show Yahweh how grateful you are for his loving mercifulness:

“When I Survey The Wondrous Cross”
His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

“How Can I Look On Calvary’s Cross?”
How can I think of all He bore—
The shame, the thorns, the pain,
And unrepentant go my way
To pierce His heart again?
Forsaken in His darkest hour
By all, except His God,
Shall I deny my blessed Lord,
Who died to lift the rod?

Let me interrupt this one for a moment to clarify that is “the rod” you should be beaten with, instead. And how could we go on without noting Jesus wasn’t forsaken by his god–the same god that dreamed up this whole execution/human sacrifice as his best-ever Plan of Salvation.

No, no! I cannot traitor be
To Jesus, King of Love,
Tho’ sinner steeped in guilt I am,
His mercy I will prove;
His blood on Calv’ry’s cross was shed,
To save e’en such as me;
O Jesus, now accept my all,
And draw me close to Thee.

And who could forget this timeless classic?

“The Old Rugged Cross”
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame;
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.

In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see,
For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
To pardon and sanctify me.

Yes, the beauty of an implement of torture and execution. So easy to appreciate.

Believe me, there’s more. Much, much, much more. This is only a small sampling. And on Sunday, even what I offer then will still only be a small sampling. But I will warn you, it’s going to be pretty well “more of the same” of what I’ve posted here. On Sunday, it won’t be so much any new horrors, as just hammering the same horrors over and over and over again. Because that’s part of
indoctrination: Repeat, repeat, repeat. And the point will be to make it abundantly clear that this is not about selecting a few objectionable hymns out of thousands, but that this is a common theme of hymns. This is orthodox Christian doctrine. And for those unfamiliar with fundamentalism, this is how they describe their beliefs within their church walls. This is how they view these concepts. And I can’t stress enough how “happy” many of these tunes are, as they go on about pain, human sacrifice, death and bathing in the blood of an executed, innocent man, to cleanse souls. And worst of all, they describe this to children as the most magnificent example of love and mercy in all of human history.

This is “the story” they defend.

What Constitutes Contradiction?

I was hanging out over at Austin Cline’s place online when I came across a comment in the blog section from a theist who offered this, “Similar to political writers of today, I believe the authors of Matthew and Luke put a ‘spin’ on their accounts that would best appeal to their intended audiences.”

The context was one that all of us ex-fundamentalists will be familiar with: how to handle Biblical contradictions. This particular Rabbit Hole is one of those rides where I just have to come right out and declare, “If you haven’t experienced it—you just can’t know what you’re missing.”

The Problem
The Bible tells a story in one place. Then in another place, it retells or references the same story. This story might appear in more than two locations, but the idea is that unbelievers will claim the story contradicts from one telling to the next. As faithful fundamentalists, however, we weren’t allowed to believe the Bible contradicts, so we had to offer an explanation for these events.

The Solution
The explanation offered is the one you see above. In fact, when I was in church, it was explained thus: “Suppose you were on a street corner, and you observed an accident. Well, when the police take your statement, it will be very different than the statement of, say, one of the drivers involved in the accident.” So, I might say “the red car ran the light and hit the white car,” but the driver of the white car will say, “the red car came straight at me,” and so it goes. It’s the same story—but the different vantage points mean we get varying descriptions of it. You might also be familiar with the analogy of the five blind men and the elephant—all describing different parts of the same animal—while none of them sound like they’re talking about the same thing at all.

It is a reasonable explanation for why two stories may sound different, when, in fact, they’re the same. I would expect vantage point to play a role in relating almost any event. But it is also reasonable to recognize that at a certain point, a difference in the story can present an irreconcilable contradiction. So, if a red van and a white truck collide, and I describe a black convertible and a white van colliding, something is amiss, and “vantage point” can’t really fix this level of contradiction.

Surely if such contradictions did exist—errors so blaringly obvious nobody could miss them—Christians would be aware. Fundamentalists memorize Bible passages for fun, for goodness’ sake. Unless it were some really minor issue tucked away in some remote corner of some irrelevant passage—they’d have discovered it by now, surely?

I can see how a person not raised as a fundamentalist might think this would have to be the case. But let me share a secret: Fundamentalists, for the most part, don’t ever do side-by-side readings of their texts. When they read about Jesus’ birth or resurrection, they read from one story at a time. They don’t take Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and read them in a parallel fashion. But let me tell you, the first time I did this, my fundy head blew clean off. It didn’t blow so much as a result of finding a contradiction, as it did the reality that I was thoroughly familiar with these verses, but I had never noticed any discrepancies in them at all. It had never occurred to me to even try to read the stories side-by-side to see if they aligned. And it wasn’t that I didn’t perceive these passages as contradictory once I read them—it was that I didn’t ever notice these discrepancies were even in there—after years of Bible reading and Bible studies.

It was epiphanies like this that really drove me the hardest during my years of deconversion. It was the many times I recognized I’d been trained not to think and not to question. I recognized I was wearing blinders, I had no idea were ever put on me. I don’t pretend that no Christian has seen what I’m about to show you. And I don’t pretend no Christian—even ardent literalists—offer no explanations for what you’re about to read. But I will tell you that this is one of those things that most lay Christians—however carefully they read or scrutinize their Bibles—don’t know is in their Bibles.

What is the crux of the Christian religion? Upon what does their specific sales pitch hinge? The Resurrection. This is the single most significant event in the evolution of Christianity. It is their sign of assurance of an afterlife, the means of man’s redemption and reconciliation with god, and the main and most important signal that Jesus was, in fact, the Son of God. And I guarantee you that nearly every theist you will ever meet has not done what you’re about to do in this post: Read the Resurrection tales side by side.

Don’t groan—they’re surprisingly short stories. But I invite anyone who has never done this—atheist or theist—to take a moment and do it. And I’m putting the tales right here, to make it easy for even the laziest minds. I’m not going to offer up any personal critique or assessment of what follows. I’m not going to tell you what problems I think exist in these texts. You read them. You be the judge. You decide.

All I Ask:
Before you rush to look up the apologetic that will somehow attempt to reconcile what I’m presenting below, read the passages for yourself and then honestly answer this simple, single question: “If four different people told me the same stories I just read—and I didn’t already believe these stories can’t contradict—would I consider them contradictory?”

And we’re off…

Luke 24:1-10
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Then they remembered his words. When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.

Mark 16:1-8
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.″Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Matthew 28:1-10
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, goin
g to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

John 20:1-16
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

Make up your own mind.