Gospel Disproof #12: The FISH Symbol

One of the oldest symbols of the Christian faith is the fish, chosen both for its simplicity of design and for the fact that its Greek name happens to make a handy acronym for the Greek phrase meaning “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” I think it’s time we re-purposed both the symbol and the acronym (in English) by using it to remind ourselves of the four all-too-human sources of information about God.

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Gospel Disproof #11: Rabbit math

In the world of Watership Down, the largest number in rabbit language is five, because rabbits can only count to four and thus anything more than that is “five.” The author doesn’t go into rabbit math in detail, but if we think about it, this is really a pretty simple mathematical system. The sum of anything more than 2+2 is five, the product of anything more than 2×2 is five, five minus anything is probably going to be five, and there is no division because rabbits can only multiply.

This strikes me as resembling certain modes of thinking. The whole appeal is its simplicity. Anyone can do it. Granted, there are some drawbacks: if all you know is rabbit math, most of real math will be incomprehensible to you. But rabbit math has a way of dealing with that incomprehensible complexity. It’s all just “five.” That’s all you can say, and in rabbit math that’s all you need to know. Much better than real math, which gets notoriously harder the farther you go. Even people who like math are going to have to do considerable work to master more than the basics. Rabbit math is easier.

You’re right, I’m thinking about religion. Granted, there are a lot of people who think religiously without going all the way to rabbit-math-level oversimplifications. But that’s the limit towards which religious thinking tends. Its appeal is that it simplifies things, and has a place to stick the incomprehensible. Magic (or miracles, if you prefer) covers everything beyond a certain level of understanding, and in religious thinking that’s all you need to know.

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Gospel Disproof #10: Rigged score-keeping

Suppose you start flipping a coin and keeping track of the results. What are the odds against getting heads 100 times in a row? Normally pretty high, right? But with a simple technique, the odds go way down. In fact, if you apply this trick consistently, you can virtually guarantee success every time. Know how? It’s easy: every time it comes up tails, you just say, “That one doesn’t count.” By only counting the ones that come up heads, you can get as many in a row as you like.

Rigged score-keeping is a big part of Christian apologetics. You want proof that God answers prayer? Here, let me show you my scars: I was in a terrible accident and the doctors said I had only a 4% chance of survival, but my family prayed for me and here I am today. Well, that’s all well and good for you and the other three people who survive similar injuries, but what about the 96 that didn’t survive, despite their families’ prayers? Those don’t count. You only count the ones that come up heads.

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Gospel Disproof #8: Prayer

Believers will often tell you that prayer works, and in a way they’re right. Prayer does work, but the interesting thing is that it works equally well no matter who or what you pray to. One day not too long after I realized Christianity was not The Truth, my wife lost her car keys. It was getting late, she needed to get to work, and we were tearing the house apart looking for those keys. On a whim, I raised my left little finger in the air and prayed to it. “Oh left little finger, if you are truly the only unique, mighty and omniscient God, please grant that my wife would find her car keys now. Amen.” No sooner had I said the amen, than I heard my wife downstairs triumphantly call out, “Found ’em!”

Prayer does work, but what it works on is the mind of the believer. You soon learn, as a believer, not to pray for certain types of things (which coincidentally turn out to be the sort of things that would require God to actually exist). Prayer must ask only for the kind of things that experience shows are reasonably possible to turn out anyway—like finding your car keys when you’re actively looking for them. If you’re careful to limit yourself to such prayers, then it does not matter who or what you pray to, you will always get an answer, and sometimes that answer will be “Yes.”

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Gospel Disproofs #7: Counting heads

The doctrine of the Trinity is a rich source of gospel disproofs, due to the inherently self-contradictory nature of the doctrine. For today’s installment, I’ll just pick one of the problems: counting the number of persons in the Godhead. According to the official doctrine of the Church, there is only one God, and this singular God consists of three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Christians repeat this doctrine to each other and to their children over and over until they can believe it without even thinking, but if you do stop and think, you’ll realize this notion has some major pronoun problems.

The problem is that in the Bible, God is routinely referred to as a Him, third person singular. According to the doctrine of the Trinity, however, God is not a Him, He is a Them. That is, God is not a Person (singular), He is three Persons (plural), which means that it is wrong to refer to Him as a Him. What’s more, God Himself is mistaken when He refers to Himself as “I”, because the Trinity makes God into a “We,” due to the plural persons involved. To refer to Himself as “I” is for one of the Persons to make a distinction between Himself and the other two Persons (because the Trinity requires keeping the 3 persons distinct).

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Gospel Disproof #6: Satan

One of the most noticeable flaws in the Gospel story is God’s obvious Superman problem: if the hero is both invulnerable and unstoppable, how do you find anyone stupid enough to oppose him? Too many super powers make your hero “super”-ficial. There’s no drama (and thus no realism) because prospective bad guys haven’t really got a chance.

In monotheistic theology, the problem is even worse. If there’s only one God, and He’s both perfect and omnipotent, then the religion loses its ability to explain the existence of evil. If God can do anything, and if He would oppose evil, then evil cannot exist. But evil does exist, a fact that can neither be denied nor reconciled with a monotheistic God alone.

From such necessities, Satan is born. He is created, not by a perfect God, but by the narrative demands of the story. We can tell he’s a made-up character because what little we know about him reveals him as a shallow, two-dimensional character contrived specifically to supply God with a suitably threatening adversary. His nature and his personality are defined for him by the role in which he has been cast, and he never strays from that role. How could he? He’s just a character in a story!

For instance, Satan is supposed to be smart. Not just a little smart, but blindingly brilliant, more intelligent and experienced and cunning than any human who ever lived (which oddly enough does not stop ordinary believers from thinking they’ve been out-smarting him on a regular basis for years). So if he’s so smart, why doesn’t he realized that opposing God is self-destructively stupid? Here you are facing an omnipotent and omniscient Deity Who can turn you into dog food just by saying “Alpo.” You’re going to fight that? Duh.

But Satan is going to oppose God. No matter what a real person would do in Satan’s place, his narrative role requires him to be God’s adversary—at whatever cost to himself—and so God’s adversary he will be. He’s not intelligently selfish enough to value self-preservation, because if he were genuinely selfish, he’d realize there were more productive outlets for his talents than wasting them on a futile attempt to undo reality. A real Satan would be too smart to take the role the Gospel wants to hand him.

Or what about his perverse delight in evil? Again, narrative necessity overrides the constraints of ordinary realism. The story demands that Satan hate what is good and love what is evil, no matter how bizarre and unmotivated such affections would be in real life. Ok, so suppose Satan really does live by a value system that is the exact converse of God’s. Should he not, then, seek to lose the battle, to fail in his evil schemes, to behave stupidly and self-destructively, in order to avoid such good things as satisfaction and accomplishment and victory? Evil for the sake of evil ends up imploding from self-contradiction—even super villains have to pursue goals that are “good” as seen from some perspective.

Try as he might, Satan cannot escape the unrealistic and even contradictory requirements that his role forces upon him. The result is a cartoony, shallow charade, a caricature of what a villain ought to be, an unwilling straight man for the hero’s witty jibes. His motivations make no sense. His actions serve no real purpose, not even for himself. He exists purely as a plot device, someone for the Good Guy to be victorious over.

Granted, you can improve on the Gospel’s nemesis. Imaginative believers can take that role and embellish it, though each new storyteller will create a new devil, drawing from their own imaginations and cultural background in order to improve the tale. (Ever notice how the most realistic demons are the ones least suited to the role the Gospel would like to put them in?) But if you go back to the sources, if you go back to the Scriptures themselves, you find only the hollow, monomaniacal stock character, as immutable as he is impossible.

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Gospel Disproofs #4 & #5: Heaven and the Ascension

One of the oldest myths in the Bible is the idea of heaven, the abode of God, as a physical place up in the sky over Palestine. Genesis 1 kicks off the myth by describing the creation of the heavens along with the creation of the earth, with a “firmament” between the two. The fact that this heaven was intended as a physical place is seen in the fact that it holds water and has doors in it, which can be shut to stop any of the water from falling as rain, or opened to make it rain, or opened really wide to make it flood. And if He’s in a good mood, God can even open these doors and drop a little food down for his hungry followers. Not metaphorical food, either—real food you can gather and eat and live on for forty years (or so Exodus claims).

Numerous passages attest to heaven’s physical location as being up above the earth. From heaven, God looks down on men, and when men want to turn to God (usually to ask Him for something) they turn their attention up to heaven. Up there is where the angels are too, and when God sends one or more of them, He sends them down to the earth. In fact, Jacob (aka Israel) happened to stumble upon the very spot where the gateway to heaven was, and in a dream he saw the actual ladder between earth and heaven, with angels ascending and descending it. A very few lucky people even made the trip up to heaven.

The only trouble is, of course, that it’s not really up there.

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Gospel Disproof #3: Christian homophobia

One sure sign of a made-up God is that the people who make Him up invariably ascribe their own prejudices and biases to Him, in order to make them officially binding on everyone else. Christians and their Jewish predecessors demonstrate this by their traditional portrayal of God as a virulent homophobe and bigot who does not wish merely to deny gays the right to get married, but wishes to deny them life itself, if they are ever so presumptuous as to become intimate with each other as heterosexuals do.

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Gospel Disproof #2: The Empty Tomb

Some of the best Gospel disproofs are right out in plain sight. Take the Empty Tomb for instance. Everybody’s heard of it. It’s the centerpiece of the Easter story. It’s the core of the Christian apologetic for Jesus actually rising from the dead.

Nobody ever stops to think how very very odd it is that the Empty Tomb would end up in such a pre-eminent place.

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