Shortly after I got married, my wife and I were walking Granville Street’s “mall”… an area that is largely traffic free and attracts all sorts: drug dealers, buskers and god-squaders.
On one corner, a street preacher had set himself up. He had a car battery, bull horn, and about a dozen shills handing out pamphlets. It was a real challenge for the two of us to wend our way through the crowd to get to the theatre we were aiming for. A woman, about sixty, blocked us, handed us a brochure and said “Have you been born again?” (or some such rubbish… it was a long time ago). Proselytizers annoy me. So I replied and a loud booming voice “Fuck off!”. We were not asked again.
I caught a lot of flak from my wife. She thought I was rude. I though quite the reverse. I also thought it was funny as hell. The look on the woman’s face alone was worth the price of admission. And upon reflection, my position only solidified.
A few days ago, I was watching the always funny, always brilliant, Christopher Hitchens on Youtube. In it, a woman, also about sixty, asked what he would recommend she say when people ask her a similar question. Hitch though for a second and said “I would tell them to Fuck Off!” and then gave a very concise reason as to why.
I spent quite some time dissecting the Roman Catholic Church (the RCC) in my book, The God Con. I spent as much time as I did for several reasons, The RCC is big and old, well organized, and well documented.. And corrupt as hell.
If you have seen the movie Spotlight, you know what I am talking about. That true story only focused on the Boston area, but all the tactics of the RCC were on display. Deflect, hide, duck, doge, hide and lie. The pedophile problem was everywhere -- hundreds of priests in the Boston area alone -- and the church covered it up. And it is still doing so. I said that Francis appeared to be an improvement on his predecessor, saying the right things, and giving believers hope that the church might resurrect itself. He promised to address the pedophile issue. Spoiler alert: He lied!
The Passionate Eye recently ran a piece called Behind the Alter that asked if Francis has lived up to his promise. He has not. In post WWII Europe, the RCC Rat Line helped Nazis escape to South America and other places. A new Rat Line has been established. It hides pedophile priests in foreign, usually third world, parishes without telling the locals of the risk. The show points out that the church's policy of zero tolerance is actually not zero, but 75%. That is, three out of four priests with credible charges against them faced no punishment.
The RCC has always had a policy that literally says priests are better than you or I, and that they should therefore be cut some slack. Bullshit. These are priest-pedophiles! I can think of no worse combination. They are the people that hardened criminals cannot stand. Wolves in shepherds clothing. They take confessions and use them to blackmail innocents. The RCC actively hides these creeps in your back yard without telling anyone..
I take no joy in saying that my skepticism was well founded. Pope Frankie, like his predecessors, still believes that the church is more important than one kid getting sodomized, or even a thousand. The values of the RCC are not worth shit if they do not extend to protecting children, even if it means shutting down the RCC or large parts of it. All the RCC cares about is the three Ps (Power, Profit and Sex). Nothing else. They say they must spread the word of god... but I am pretty sure this is not what their god had in mind. The Pope could fix it with a few Papal commandments, like "report violations to the cops", but he does not. Why not? Because he knows the price. Billions of dollars and perhaps his life.
Organized religion is the scourge of civilization. It is a con job and just plain evil.
This is a book with a difference. The author is a retired Episcopal Bishop arguing that almost everything believers think they know about Jesus is not true. A poker buddy of mine (Hank Reiner) recommended it to me after I explained the premise of my book. I wish I had read it before writing The God Con.
A key component of my arguments in my book is that religions are cons. Religion evolve. There are two ways to start a religion: from scratch (Scientology) or by adding and subtracting bits from existing religions (cults and religious sects). Central to that idea is that Christianity is just Judaism with a few extra layers added to it. Spong's book confirms that view on almost every page. That is certainly not his intent.
The book is in two parts. The first part is a historical breakdown of the Jesus myth. The second part -- about one third of the book -- then tries to tell the reader how Jesus was a real guy and that one can still experience god through Jesus.
Both segments start by saying that atheism is not a disbelief in god, but a disagreement about the definition of god. He states this like it as an obvious fact. It is not and he is wrong. The dictionary disagrees with him on this point and so do I. The second part of the book paints god as transcendent experience that one can still have through Jesus, who he also claims actually existed. Jesus might have existed. But the problem with the other statement is that it is entirely subjective. This is where I stopped reading and started skimming. I have no doubt that Spong does believe what he says. I too have transcendent experiences, but Jesus has nothing to do with them. When I look at the huge image of the Andromeda galaxy I have hanging on one of my walls, I have thoughts that fill me with awe, but not with god. I should say that Spong believes in what science has to say about just about everything and on that score, we agree.
I did not read the second part of the book in any detail. Subjective experience is nice for the guy experiencing it, but that is about all.
The first segment of the book, however, is fascinating. I have never read the Bible and I never will. Life is too short. Spong is a brave man. He is religious, but does not believe in miracles. His book breaks down the Jesus myth largely as Judaism on steroids. The Jesus myth is just a retelling of Judaism. He breaks down the gospels and meticulously relates New Testament story telling to Jewish tradition. In other words, he validates virtually all of my arguments with respect of the origins of the Jesus myths, from the virgin birth to the crucifixion. All the Jesus stories are just Jewish stories shoe-horned into the "modern" world of 2,000 years ago.
The following are conclusions and observations made in the book. Some are clearly true, others were appropriately defended by Spomg. Spong argues constantly that all this is for liturgical reasons. Liturgical just means ritual-related. It is all about the show!
Mark, the first gospel, didn't mention the virgin birth or Bethlehem;
There were 41 generations between David and Joseph. Half the planet could claim lineage;
Mark only mentions the name Mary once;
Joseph was a fiction created to keep Jesus from being a bastard;
Scholars do not agree on the names of the disciples;
Judah is a name from Genesis and is the same name as Judas (story crossover (SC));
There was no Judas;
Twelve disciples, twelve tribes of Israel (SC);
Lots of people (e.g.: Peter and Paul) did miracles… more miracles, more power;
Miracles are recycled (eg: Moses and Elijah caused water to divide);
Miracles associated with Jesus were a later addition to fit Jewish traditions and ritual;
Moses fed a multitude with a small amount of miracle food, as did Jesus (SC);
Jesus curses a fig tree for not giving figs... off-season;
The gospels stretch language to make Jesus sound cool… cooler than Moses;
Paul only said one line about the crucifixion: That Jesus died for our sins according to scripture (Jewish scripture (SC));
No one was there when Jesus died;
The resurrection language is gibberish;
Elijah/Elisha story crosses over a lot;
There was no last supper;
There was no betrayal, no crown of thorns, no thieves, no darkness at noon, no crowds and no resurrection;
Jesus is just the Greek spelling of Joshua (Israel's greatest deliverer (SC));
Jesus and the Passover Lamb were both slaughtered and the Eucharist and Passover are reflections. This is where the consuming the flesh of the lamb of god comes from (SC);
Ditto Yom Kippur. The Jewish sacrificial lamb dies for our sins; the goat carries them away (hence scapegoat) (SC);
Barabbus, an odd figure in the bible, literally translates to "the son of god";
Again and again Spong argues that it was all about the ritual (in my words, the con). He still clings to the idea that it is all about the experience of Christ, which is meaningless to me, and entirely subjective.
This was an eye-opening book, but not in the way the author intended.
In my book, The God Con, I briefly discuss one of the more famous cons of WWII called Operation Mincemeat. It was a diversion to make the Germans think the first landing on European soil would be in Greece, rather than Sicily (not D-Day as I wrote).
These are things religion (e.g.: Scientology, Catholics) and The Con (eg: Bernie Madoff) have in common:
I did a chat to flog my book and my thesis (God is a con job) to the BC Humanists. I think It went fairly well. It seemed to be reasonably well received. I fear I did not manage my time as well as I could, nor did I get to closing arguments in a clearer sort of way. But that is normal post-talk regrets.
I was asked one question that, at first, I did not understand. Basically, it was “What do you think of people who call others ‘Islamaphobes’.”
First, a phobia is an irrational fear of something. If a fear is rational, it is not a phobia. If someone has a real phobia, they should see a shrink.
In my book, I discuss just how many Muslims could be called Islamists. It is a lot. And religious fundamentalists (aka: nut-bars) of every stripe are well known to do extreme things. The number of terrorist attacks in the last two decades is certainly large enough to cause concern for any sane person.
Second, another question that needs to be answered is how bad the risk really is. Once we know that there is a risk, we should also evaluate how that risk relates to other risks we take on every day. We do not lose a lot of sleep over fundamentalist Christians attacking civilians. They tend to attack single targets, like abortion doctors. But Islamists are indiscriminant and attack civilians as a matter of course.
If you meet an Islamist, you definitely have a reason to be concerned, and so the “Islamaphobe” label is wrong. In fact, I would go further and say that many Muslims and Muslim supporters use the phrase to simply shut up their critics. Don’t let them.
Muslims cannot cherry-pick their religion any more than Christians can. And yet most of them do. The Koran is not nice to infidels. If a Muslims rejects these aspects of Islam, then I suggest that: a) They are not true Muslims; and b) they can probably be trusted to not try to lop your head off over the smallest religious slight.
Another attendee asked me about the Unitarian church. Frankly, I do not get these guys. If you have a religion, then you are duty bound to spread the word (see The God Con for a discussion of this). Thus, I do not get how people who have religion would want to simply socialize with people of a different religious stripe. The “church” seems to want to have their cake and eat it too. The social aspects of the Unitarian church are laudable and should be provided by other state-sanctioned means such as community centers and such.
In software development, we have the concept of a “development platform”. In the olden days (circa 1983), a development platform would usually mean either the IBM PC or the MacIntoch. Each platform would offer access to a certain market, and would provide certain development tools to the software developer.
Today, the word “platform” is still in use, but its meaning has morphed. Some development platforms are “virtual machines”. You develop for non-existent machine, and the platform provides a way to convert from the virtual machine apps to an actual machine. The best example today would be game development platforms. Platforms create “paradigms”, or ways of approaching a problem, on which their various development tools hang. Tools are software to do things like 3-D modeling or moving objects over virtual landscapes. Once your game (to continue with that analogy) is done, the platform allows you implement it easily for the target real machines: hand held, PC, X-Box, Sega etc.
As I said before, the platform dictates the audience, and the tools it provides represent the paradigm to approaching the problem.
If you are a con artist, you have several platforms to choose from. Health and health care is a fertile ground for scams and is a good example of a con game development platform. Others are financial world (stock market, pyramid schemes etc) and, of course, religion. Nobody understands everything about these complex ideas, so it is easy for the con man to hide in the weeds.
Organized religion is a perfect development platform for the con. The development tools are the tools of religion the world over… an invisible buddy that watches over you all the time, messes with your life, and threatens you with eternal damnation. You can say the most ridiculous things and get away with it when you wrap them in the tools of the platform (e.g.: god moves in mysterious ways; god tells us what is moral and what is not).
The virtual machine is the religious world view. The development platform is the virtual religious world view at the top and its specific implementation platforms (Catholicism, Islam, Judaism etc) below it, and the actual target real machines are you, me, and your kids… but mostly your kids. And like most games today, they involve in-application purchases and lots of them. That is, if you want to play the game, you must pay.
Game development platforms often are tightly held, meaning only certain tools are available for use and they are controlled by the platform star chamber. Think “kosher”. Other platforms are more open to input and modification.
At the end of the day, development platforms are created to make money, whether we are talking games or religion.
Lee Moller is a life-long skeptic and atheist and the author of The God Con.