1970s >> 1979 >> no-898-june-1979

Pie in the sky

“Faith is the supernatural gift of God, which enables you to believe without doubting whatever the Church has decreed.” This is the answer to the first question in the Catholic catechism. Adam’s sin was that he ate the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. He “became like God” and therefore didn’t need him any more.

 

Since the beginning of history man has invented supernatural beings to explain things he did not understand. This was logical when knowledge did not extend beyond the immediate concern with keeping alive. Today’s religion is a survival from the time when we still had tails. So although the various gods of fire, water and so on ‘made sense’ to primitive people who could not understand or control their environment, the person who today contends that storms happen because the thunder god is angry would be assigned a place on the ladder of commonsense somewhere below the flat earthers. Feeling themselves at the mercy of the elements, primitive peoples, not knowing how they could help themselves, called upon superior beings to come to their aid. This aspect of primitive religion has survived to the present day. Together with a refusal to accept that human life is as finite as of all other forms of life, it is the basis of most religions today. A better life hereafter is promised to the oppressed and the sick of mind and body under capitalism, as it has been throughout the ages. The exploited have ever been encouraged to follow a leader—temporal as well as spiritual—to the nirvana of a better life. The servant should follow the master, the plebian his lord, the ordinary person the politician, the laity the priests and officials of their religion, who would lead them according to the wishes of the ‘highest commander’—the god or gods of their particular brand of superstition.

 

There are many religions, but the basic story is the same: the gift of life, the sacrifice of a saviour, the ‘superior being’, the life hereafter. The message is the same, placatory obedience, suffering, penance and self-sacrifice on earth for the sake of rewards hereafter. The priest or mediator interprets the message and dispenses rewards and punishments in the name of his particular deity. Each religion, in its own way, requires to dominate its followers.

 

Christian and Jewish religions are not alone in putting women in an inferior position and excluding them from all but menial responsibilities. Their pre-ordained place in life is as homemakers and child-bearers. In the Christian church the Virgin Mary is only another in the long line of fertility goddesses. The male ideal of womanhood — as mate, comforter and homemaker in return for protection and provision — is still prevalent in society.

 

In the Christian churches the deviations are many and varied, but there is irrefutable evidence that not only Western civilisation has been imbued and brainwashed into the moralities of the Christian tradition.

 

The Gospels

Opinions vary widely as to when the gospels were written, but it is now generally thought that the four used today first appeared between 65 and 100AD. From these, the New Testament evolved between 150 and 350AD. Many other gospels were written by the early Christians, and Luke, one of the ‘official’ quartet, said that his gospel was only the latest of many.

 

Several of the gospel stories are lifted directly from the Old Testament. For example, the story of the feeding of the five thousand is first told in the Book of Kings about the prophet Elisha. The birthplace of Jesus, the virgin birth, the visit of the three kings, the flight into Egypt; sometimes even the wording is almost identical.

 

  “The boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favour with the Lord and with men” (1 Samuel 2:26) becomes “and Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and men” (Luke 2:52).

 

The story of the nativity — “The ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master’s crib”, the stilling of the storm, walking on water, the bodily ascension into heaven (Elijah ascended into heaven in a chariot of fire) — in fact nearly all the ‘supernatural’ aspects of the gospels are paralleled in the Old Testament. Galileans were considered credulous and superstitious and it is interesting to note that nearly all the miracles are supposed to have happened there.

 

There are serious discrepancies between the gospels. There is a world of difference, for example between “blessed are the poor” (Luke) and ‘blessed are the poor in spirit ’ (Matthew). Mark speaks of the Son of God — a title applied to Israelite kings in the Old Testament. “You are my son, today I have begotten you” (Psalm 2:7) or “The King is God’s first born (Psalm 89:27). John says “The Son of God” — implying a ‘divine being’.

 

The earliest gospel (Mark, 65AD) was written thirty-two years after the commonly accepted date of Jesus’ death in 33AD. (There is disagreement between the gospels even on this. John implies that he lived nearly fifty years, Luke says a little over thirty.) It has recently been argued that many of the gospel stories are not reported fact but owe much to the Jewish technique of embellishment. The Sermon on the Mount and the Lord’s Prayer do not go back to Jesus himself but are creations of the early church. It is almost impossible to say how much of the gospels is fact and how much modification, interpretation and embellishment in the twenty to sixty years between the events and their writing down This explains the differences between and downright contradictions in the four gospels.

 

Whereas Islam and Buddhism grew directly out of their founder’s message, the Christian religion altered in some cases almost beyond recognition what was taught by and happened to the historical Jesus. An interesting point here is that Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God on earth. and the Church has turned this upside down and has always taught: ‘Be good and suffer here in order to come to the Kingdom of God in heavenafter death‘. The itinerant preacher is portrayed in Christian art as a Roman emperor type of god in heaven, even the halo around his head is that of an emperor.

 

Who was Jesus?
The early church had two images of Jesus: the radiant, noble, idealised one in his transfigured state, and frail and ugly in his human state. Eventually only the former was recognised, and Christian art and images for hundreds of years have portrayed only this aspect. Yet historical writings are quite clear. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215AD) says his face was ugly. The pagan Celsus (c.178) asked, “How can the Son of God have been such an ugly little man?’’. The Latin Father Tertullian (c. 160-220) likened him to a ‘puerulus’ — a wretched little boy. Robert Eisler put together the various descriptions by Josephus: “three ambits tall, crooked or stooping, long-faced, long-nosed with continuous eyebrows, scanty hair, dark-skinned, looking older than his years”. No connection with the aesthetically beautiful, pale-skinned, luxuriously curly-haired Jesus portrayed in Christian churches and religious art for hundreds of years.

 

In history Jesus was a man who lived and died about two thousand years ago, a practising Jew of Jewish parents. He was one of several children of Joseph and Mary. James, his elder brother, is mentioned in Paul’s message to the Galatians, and there were also Joseph, Judah and Simon, as well as at least two sisters. His family were respectable, and not as poor as the Christian religion would have us believe. They worried about the effect of his activities and tried to stop him, he disowned them (Mark 3:21, 31-35). He was executed on an unknown site by the roadside north or west of Jerusalem. According to Mark (the earliest gospel) no disciples were present and his reputed last words are therefore hearsay and their accuracy as reported in later gospels must be in doubt.

 

The way we see the world arises out of the structure of our society. Seen in retrospect, the myths and miracles of religion are as understandable in the societies in which they arose as primitive beliefs in gods of fire, water and fertility. In the light of modern knowledge there is no excuse for the continued blind belief in and reliance on a supreme being who determines the course of events.

 

Eva Goodman