Why Choose Christianity?
The Answer Is, You Don't.
On this festive eve when the Christian world prepares to celebrate that amazing event which obviously never took place 2,000 years ago, and spare me that stuff about the Holy Family bugging out to Egypt to avoid a homicidal king that had died over ten years previously, I prepare to celebrate in my own way -- by boarding up the widows and putting a padlocked chain across the door with a large notice;
This Is a Christmas-Free Zone.
And I think it is a suitable time to write my own conversion story.
A somewhat unusual one as it, actually, a non-conversion story, as I was never a Christian believer.
I recall absorbedly reading "The Bible in Pictures" as a child, but belief never came into it; it was no more than just another story-book. Not that I actually disbelieved it, I just couldn't see what it had to do with me.
My mother sent me to the local church school where I had the "chatechism" drummed into me -- I found it exceeding tedious and cannot remember a word of it now, I'm glad to say.
I won't go into all the Christmas services and Harvest Festivals that I was dragooned into -- they passed by leaving not a trace, but I look ahead to when, in my early teens, the local Vicar -- you'd call him a minister -- invited himself round to talk me into joining the church choir.
For a couple of years I sang in the parish church and don't regret it. I still enjoy ecclesiastical architecture, organ music and church compositions -- not those slimy Victorian hymns but meaty stuff like Monteverdi or Bach's masses. And it gave me a look at the sort of people in the Church. 'Nuff said.
The revelation happened while reading the "Upanishads" on a bus to work. I realised that the Hindu religion made as much sense and was just as convincing (or unconvincing) as Christianity was. So why choose Christianity? The answer is, you don't. It is foisted on one by social pressure.
How did I feel? As if a great, weighty, sooty bundle of rags had been removed from my back -- I actually had that image at the time. I felt as though I was breathing fresh air for the first time.
Ah, say the Christians, in a multitude of tracts, but Christianity is more firmly based in history than the other religions.
And then I was given a book to read called 'The Jesus scroll'. Can't remember the author. I found the tale of the discovery of this scroll, apparently written by Jesus at the seige of Masada by the Romans, hard to swallow, but the book started me off on a searching read of the New Testament in search of the real Jesus. Christian apologists blithely say that this is a futile, childish thing to do and the "historical" Jesus cannot be discovered thereby. Have they ever tried? I doubt it. I have, and once you have cleared away the scrub and dead wood of Roman-Christian amendations. (For an example, Luke's story of healing a handy invalid on the Sabbath at a Pharisee's dinner table, not realising that, if it's okay to be at a feast, it's okay to heal, 'cause it ain't the Sabbath yet. Another; Matthew's angel rolling away the stone and perching on it like a parrot whereas the other three gospels simply have the tomb mysteriously open. Another? John the Baptist, banged up in Herod's dungeon, sending his disciples along to ask Jesus whether he was the one, when he's already grovelled at Jesus' feet at the Jordan, identifying him as the man right away); when, I say, all that's tidied away, you find the real Jesus, clear enough.
Jesus the revolutionary is not a favoured theory these days, though sceptics see him as a Jew with a reformatory programme. But I think that Jesus as a zealot has a lot going it as a theory. Not only was Simon called "the zealot" but the term "sons of John" is also a zealot title. I gather that even "the Cananean" means from Kana -- a hotbed of anti-Roman rebellion. That title is given, not only as a synonym for Simon the zealot, but that shadowy possible disciple from Bethsaida was also described as "from Cana".
But, say the apologists, these were all zealots for God, not for war. Quite apart from the 1st century Jews not seeing any difference -- the triumphal procession and ensuing (despite the attempts of some gospel-writers to separate the events) dust up in the temple -- is enough to convince me what sort of zealots they were.
That event was planned, as was everything that Jesus had done since setting out for Jerusalem for the last time. The healing of Bar-Timaeus and the raising of Lazarus, studiously ignored by the Synoptics, look to me like set-up show "miracles".
It all went horribly wrong because Jesus had relied on God helping him, as he did the Maccabeans. But, for whatever reason, God was not there to lend a hand and Jesus was duly executed by the Romans, the gospels afterwards turning somersaults to transfer the blame -- through the wholly unrepresentative quisling government of the Sadducees -- onto the Jews.
At one time, I used to enjoy inviting Jehovah's witnesses in for a chat, but realised that, not only was I unlikely to get them to think seriously about their religion as opposed to reciting, blank-faced, their memorised spiel (when I'd batted down all of their points, they'd gallop for the gate like a mustang) but I had no business to do so. Was I willing to take responsibility for taking away something that gave their lives meaning?
One thing I could do, is give a bit of support to those that do want to ask questions. There are few places to turn to. Most libraries and bookshops carry Christian apologist works, almost never those books that cast doubts.
"Positive Atheism" is badly needed. May the "wolf-pack" confine its attentions to closing down all the Internet porn-sites (as if it was any of their business) rather than removing this much-needed website.
Well done, Cliff.
D. R. Hood
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