Easter

This weekend is Easter, at least by the calendar used in most of Christendom, so I thought it might be worth taking a look at the central message of Christianity.

The story in a nutshell: way back in the beginning, Adam and Eve, the first two humans, ate a fruit that God told them not to. As a result, every human is born with Original Sin. So God sent his son Jesus to Earth as a sacrifice, to atone for humanity and rescue us from Hell.

Where to begin? Leaving aside the many problems with the Adam and Eve story (like why God put that tree in the garden in the first place, without so much as a child-proof lock on it), and ignoring the question of whether it’s a literal story or a metaphor, there’s original sin: how does it get transmitted from parent to child? I’m guessing it’s not genetic, or else Christians would be pushing for research into bioengineering, so that we could one day have a generation of chilren born without original sin.

Or is it passed down like a title of nobility, or a debt? That is, it’s not a thing or a substance, but more like a contract that affects how God behaves toward us? If original sin is like a debt, then it seems unfair of God to hold us responsible for something that Adam and Eve did.

(By a fortuitous coincidence, while I was writing this, two Jehovah’s Witnesses came to the door, so I took the opportunity to ask some of the questions in this post. They didn’t tell me anything I hadn’t heard umpteen times before, and offered no good explanations, so I can proceed as planned, without major revisions.)

At any rate, God decided not to fix the problem right away, but to let a few thousand years (or more) elapse before doing something about it.

And what a solution he came up with! He decided to have a son (who may or may not be himself, depending on whether you accept the doctrine of the Trinity or not, and how you interpret it) to be executed. This was to be construed as a blood sacrifice: sacrificing his son (or himself) to himself. This would somehow make things all better by allowing him not to send people to Hell.

The hell that he created, or at least subcontracted to Satan. Because God wanted there to be a hell in which the people descended from the people who disobeyed God would be tortured forever.

So how exactly does that work? Or, as comedian Doug Stanhope put it,

Jesus died for your sins. How does one affect the other? I fucking hit myself in the foot with a shovel for your mortgage. I don’t get it.

If God wants to forgive people, why can’t he just forgive them, without having to kill his son? If it’s to create a loophole in the law that every sin requires a sacrifice, then the law is stupid and he should have just repealed it.

If sinful people can’t get into heaven, why does God insist on sending them to hell? Why not just obliterate them, so that at least they don’t suffer? If there has to be a hell, for whatever reason, why doesn’t he reform it and get rid of the gratuitous torture?

If that’s not possible because God’s constitution doesn’t allow for amendments, then he’s either stupid or malevolent (and given that he decided to torture people forever, and for someone else’s crime, I’d be leaning toward malevolent, if I weren’t already leaning toward imaginary).

Basically, Jesus is a scapegoat. Scapegoats, you may recall, are animals or lower-class people upon whom the crimes of the community were laid, and who are then punished or killed for those crimes. The whole notion rests upon the notion that sin or crime or guilt is a substance that can be transferred from one person to another. If it did, we could talk to prisoners on death row and ask if they’d be willing to take on the additional guilt of, say, a hundred guys serving for pot possession, or a thousand parking tickets. But every advanced country, in particular the ones with the lowest crime rates, has recognized that this isn’t justice, but merely a salve that allows people to buy a guilt-free life, rather than having to live with the consequences of one’s actions, and having to think ahead and avoid doing things that might come back to haunt one.

In short, it’s not just that there isn’t a shred of evidence to think that the Easter story is true. It also doesn’t make sense on its own terms. The story of Xenu makes more sense than this, and that’s saying something.

Shit My Bible Says: Lilies of the Field

It’s easy to dismiss the previous two episodes in this series as “Oh, but that’s the Old Testament!” So let’s pick on the New Testament for a change:

Matthew 6:25-34:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[a]?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

And also Luke 12:22-31:

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life[a]? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

(emphasis added)

Here we have Jesus saying not to worry about what’ll happen tomorrow. Don’t worry about where your next meal is coming from or whether you can get clothes. And he’s not saying “make sure you’ve made adequate preparation for your future, but don’t give yourself an ulcer.” He’s saying not to worry about the future, because it’ll all work out somehow.

Now, if you have (or want) health insurance, or a retirement plan, or a college fund, or if the way you vote is influenced by what kind of world you want to leave your grandchildren, then you can recognize that the above is bullshit. You are worrying about the future instead of letting it work itself out on its own.

See, that’s the funny thing: the only people who can say “See? It all worked out after all” are the ones who weren’t killed by “it”.

Not worrying about retirement makes sense if you don’t think you’ll live long enough to retire: if you have a terminal disease that’ll kill you in six months, then yeah, you might as well cash out your IRA and enjoy trip to Tahiti before you die.

This is of a piece with some of Jesus’ other pronouncements, like Luke 6:29: “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.” If the world is about to be destroyed, then yeah, this makes sense because you have better things to do than sue the guy who stole your coat. But as a long-term strategy, it’s an invitation to get beaten and robbed.