In the grip of heretics, or, The Greatest Commandment

FRIDAY, 6 APRIL 2012

Even though the majority of the members of the community of believers don’t seem to have the faintest idea about this, the Christian religion is in the grip of heretics. These believers recite word for word everything the heretics teach them Sunday after Sunday, sermon after sermon. More than that, many so-called Christians are doing their utmost to proclaim the heretic deviation of Christian doctrine as widely as their ability enables them. The greatest deviation of the Christian message is, in my opinion, the emphasis on believing correctly at the expense of the Gospel of Love.

Preachers like to focus on love for God in their lectures, but “love for God”, in this disappointing heresy, is understood as correct faith, to “acknowledge” God. Lost in all these lectures on how to believe correctly is the mention of a radical, transformational love for your fellow human being.

In the heresy that is so widespread nowadays, “love” furthermore means believing in a complex mythology of guilt – of “sin” that a mythical couple had committed at the beginning of time, and that had immersed all of their descendants in debt, without them having had any part of it. “Love” also means believing in the rules regarding the management of this debt – which includes the brutal treatment that Jesus had to endure at the hands of the Roman authorities in order to “pay” for this debt.

The path to salvation according to this Christian dogma should confuse even the most seasoned church-goer. According to modern Christian dogma, Jesus died on the cross to free humanity from its sin debt. There is a useful analogy to explain this part of Christian doctrine. Say you have managed to accrue millions of dollars of debt. You’re obviously in quite a predicament. What happens next is truly miraculous. Someone who loves you sells his house, his car, his possessions, all his shares, to accumulate enough cash to cover your debt. Because he loves you. Then he physically goes into some office to hand over the money. You are notified by post that your debt has been paid. Great! You swear from now on you’re going to live a better life. No more debt! You’re free! But wait a second … someone didn’t read the fine print. For your debt to be paid, you must internalise and sincerely accept a complex set of beliefs. Question one thing, and the debt will be reset – you will still have to endure the punishment. Wonder about another thing, and the same thing happens: The debt payment is cancelled – except of course that the person who loved you so much that he sold everything to settle your debt, who practically gave up his own life, won’t get anything back. That part of his personal history is over. The pain has been suffered; the torture already endured.

Let’s return to mainstream Christian theology. Because all humans are born in sin, our souls belong to Satan, which means regardless of the good choices we make or the good lives we try to lead, we must by right all end up in a pool of everlasting fire. Fortunately for us humans, there is a technical loophole: If God sacrifices his son in the place of sinful humanity, the price is paid, the debt settled, and humanity is freed from the chains to which we were bound from before we were born. God then sends his son to Earth, where he is tortured and executed by the political authorities of the day. On another level of existence, though, this death means that human sin debt has been paid. It’s over. The job is done. But then, brothers and sisters, members of the congregation and the broader community, comes the farce, the terrible blood-curdling heresy: It is not enough! The debt has been paid, but only in theory! You, sinful person, must first internalise and confess to believing a panoply of dogma and doctrine; otherwise, Jesus’ torture would have been in vain! Otherwise he would have died for nothing!

What is it that you have to believe – and seeing that the eternal comfort of your soul depends on it, preferably also fully understand, according to this heretic takeover of the Christian message?

– You have to believe that God has a son, but that God is also the son.

– You have to believe that God is one, and has always been one, but is also the father of a son.

– You have to believe that God is spirit, but at the same time, he was also 100% flesh during his time on earth.

– You have to believe that God is a man – he is after all not called “Mother”.

– You have to believe that God had to obey the rules to which he and Satan had agreed, instead of just vanquishing Satan.

– You have to believe that although Jesus proclaimed on the cross that the salvation plan had been fulfilled (“It is finished!” he cried out according to scripture), the plan is, in fact, not fulfilled. Humanity will continue for thousands of years with their sinful lives, and then there will be a final battle. Then all who did not believe correctly will go to hell.

Bad news if you thought these things were all you had to believe in to escape the torture of everlasting hellfire. After all the “big” items on the list, we get to all the other things that are thrown in, in which you also have to believe 100%, or else.

– You have to believe that the scientific explanation of the natural development of life forms, known as evolution, is a collection of blatant lies.

– You have to believe that the cosmos with all the stars and planets and other heavenly bodies were “created”, with the understanding that this means there was nothing, and within a few days the entire universe, as we know it today, had come into existence.

– You have to believe that the collection of literary material known as the Bible was divinely dictated to about 40 people (different versions of the same events were apparently also dictated as such to the “writers”).

– You have to believe that people have absolute free will, which means everyone can be judged by the same standards for their actions. Genetic composition, socio-economic background, personal trauma and mental illness are not relevant, and should not make a difference in the final judgment.

More directives:

– You may not question how Jesus can be born of a virgin and yet also appear in the blood line of his mother’s spouse (a descendant of King David).

– You may not question the claim that Jesus went up on a cloud in the direction of what is supposed to be the locality of the dimension to which people go after physical death.

– According to the Apostolic Creed, people must confess that Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God the Father. (Literally? Should people believe it literally? And if this does not have to be literally believed, what other items of faith do not have to be taken literally?)

– You have to believe that human beings have a separate non-physical quality called a “soul” that goes to another dimension after death to either receive reward for believing correctly during the physical period of your existence, or to endure punishment for you not believing correctly. (Odd as it may sound, there is disagreement on this matter, seeing that there are people who believe the physical body also appears after physical death.)

* * *

Christian theology teaches us that God loved humanity so much that he had his own son tortured and executed in order to save humanity. A few things could be said about this, but it does serve as testimony to the importance of love in the foundation of the Christian religion. No surprise here: People are expressly ordered to love one another. “What is the greatest commandment?” an expert in religious law asked Jesus. Jesus answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” And in case people failed to completely comprehend the meaning, Jesus gave a few handy examples: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. […] Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Unfortunately, even if you did these things, even if you gave the hungry person something to eat and to the one who was thirsty something to drink, even if you housed a stranger, gave clothes to a man in rags, nursed the sick, visited someone in prison, but you do not believe any of the above doctrines, you would still burn in the hell of your master, Satan.

Love is the greatest commandment? Apparently only in theory. According to thousands of heretical leaders in charge of institutions of the Christian religion, the greatest commandment is something else: Believe correctly, or go to hell.

* * *

Like many other people, I believe the world is in a worse condition than it should be. People ought to treat one another better. We should all take better care of the environment. I do not believe we need religion to be better people. I believe an atheist can be as good a neighbour as a church-goer any day, and in many cases a better neighbour. But I also believe the Gospel of Love as proclaimed by Jesus is a radical approach to life. This approach has the potential to transform individuals, transform communities, and at the end of the day enable people to not be such disappointments as we sometimes are.

To love God by loving your neighbour. To love your neighbour by giving him something to eat when he is hungry, to give her something to drink when she is thirsty, to house him if he needs housing, give her something to wear when her clothes are falling apart, care for her when she is ill, and to visit him in prison if it comes to that.

Is this not what it’s all about? Am I missing the point? Or is the world dragged closer and closer to hell by church leaders who insist that everything is really about believing in the right way?

Many church-goers and other members of the religious community may question the validity of my criticism of what they are supposed to believe. “Were you there?” they might ask. “Do you know Jesus was not born of a virgin? Are you sure he did not come back to life three days after he had died on the cross? Are you sure he did not walk around, appearing to people for weeks after his death and resurrection? Are you sure he didn’t go up to heaven on a cloud?”

My answer to this is simple: I was not there, so for all I know, everything did happen exactly like the Biblical texts indicate, regardless of my confidence in what science says about these matters. The insistence on believing in each and every one of these doctrines, and all the related doctrines that make up Christian dogma (such as the six-day creation myth), show the unmistakable fingerprints of human beings, though – a characteristic tendency to produce fantastically complex ideologies, and then to require that everyone who wants to participate in their group first believe in their ideology. The image that comes to mind is that of a kitchen where the rubbish bag has been torn apart and the rubbish scattered all over the kitchen floor. You have a strong suspicion whose work it is. The dog is lying in the corner, trying its best to look innocent. If the dog could talk, it might try to convince you that the kitchen has always looked like this; that he had absolutely nothing to do with it. Naturally, you would respond sarcastically, and start cleaning up the mess.

My own beliefs may be an unusual blend of Christian theology and humanism and common sense, but I am not blind. I see a massive waste of human potential. I see a flagrant denial of a radical message, which I agree, may be asking too much of most people.

Eventually these three remain: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is most certainly not correct faith.

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