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.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

Gospel Disproof #45: A self-fulfilling prophecy

Back when I was an active member in the Church of Christ, I got myself in trouble with the pastor and the elders because I pointed out some discrepancies I’d found between what the church teaches and what it was actually practicing. For example, one of their big teachings is that the church has to have New Testament authorization for everything it does, and yet they’d taken it upon themselves to substitute grape juice instead of wine in the weekly communion. They had all kinds of arguments about why this exception—or “necessary inference,” as they called it—was ok, but these inferences were fairly easy to expose as mere rationalizations.

They, unsurprisingly, didn’t want to hear it, and the eldest of the elders took it upon himself to warn me about the error of my ways. “You think too much,” he declared. “You’re on the road to atheism. Everyone I’ve met who thought about the Bible like you do ended up as an atheist.” If he’d come up to be and literally dumped a bucket of ice cold water over my head, my emotional reaction (at the time) would not have been much different.

[Read more…]

Gospel Disproof #44: The Bride of Christ and her abusive husband

[Here’s an excerpt from this week’s On Guard post at Evangelical Realism. The post is about William Lane Craig’s defense of Hell, but this one part makes a nice Gospel Disproof all by itself. I’ve added an introductory paragraph at the beginning, but the rest is from ER.]

One of the big inconsistencies in the Christian Gospel is the whole idea of a “loving” God sending His own children to Hell for the trivial offense of failing to believe He exists—as though He Himself weren’t provoking this unbelief by His consistent and universal failure to show up in real life! It’s an issue that a lot of Christians struggle with even among themselves, and more than a few have become liberals or even agnostics because of the intractable nature of the problem. And in many cases, those who try to defend Hell, like Craig, end up making a bad situation even worse.

[Read more…]

Gospel Disproof #43: The hallucination hypothesis

Over at the Evangelical Realism blog, we’ve just finished looking at William Lane Craig’s attempt to discredit the hypothesis that the postmortem appearances of Jesus were actually just hallucinations on the part of the disciples. He gave it his best shot, and used some of the best debating tactics he knows, but couldn’t quite pull it off. And yet for all that, the hallucination hypothesis does have a flaw: it’s overkill. Christians don’t need anywhere near that amount of psychological incentive to induce them to believe that they’re receiving some kind of special visitation from supernatural divinity.

[Read more…]

Gospel Disproof #42: The infallible test

Have you ever wondered whether there is an almighty, all-knowing, all-wise, and all-loving God Who wants a personal relationship with each of us badly enough to literally die for it? Well, fortunately there’s a simple test you can do that cannot fail to tell you whether or not such a God exists. Ready? All you have to do is say, “God, can I see You for a minute? I want to talk with you.” Then have a digital camera ready. If He shows up to talk to you, take His picture and post it on the web, and you will have proven that He exists. The cool thing is that this test will work for anybody and everybody, so if anyone claims you might have faked the photo, they can just repeat the test themselves.

What makes this test infallible is the nature of God, as specified in the test. Because He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-wise, by definition there is no greater power than God to prevent Him from showing up if He wants to. And because He is all-loving and wants a personal relationship with each of us, He wants (by definition) to show up to participate in that relationship as long as no greater power is able to prevent him. It is thus impossible, by definition, for this test to fail to reveal the truth about whether such a God exists.

In fact, there’s only one flaw.

[Read more…]

Gospel Disproof #41: The Case of the Lying Guards

I’ve been enjoying a stimulating conversation with Jayman on the topic of resurrection, and one of the things I’ve realized as a result is that the story of the guards in Matt. 28 is unmistakably a fraudulent addition invented long after the time of the alleged Resurrection. See if you can spot the clues that give it away:

Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it… The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men…

[S]ome of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, and said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.” And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.

[Read more…]

Gospel Disproof #40: The law of sin and death

This may surprise some of you, but according to the Bible, Christians are actually supposed to be free from sin. Sure, temptation may still be around, and our mortal bodies may still be subject to the lusts of the flesh. But thanks to Jesus’ death on the cross, those things no longer have any power over believers. Or at least that’s what the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 8.

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law [of Moses] could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us…For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you… If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Did you catch that? Without God you have death and sin; with God you have life and peace, right here, right now, in your mortal body. And God can give you that life—which is the opposite of sin and death—through the Spirit of God who dwells in you, because the flesh has been put to death.

It’s a fantastic promise except for the fact that it’s complete bollocks.

[Read more…]