Once a week I pick out three items of religiously inspired weirdness that have popped up within the news cycle during the last seven days and throw a spotlight upon them. Given the significant of the date, this week perhaps merits something slightly different. We have a claim that is perhaps the ultimate example of #FakeNews.
Chris is Risen
To the amusement of many, a small Baptist church in York England ordered banners for the occasion, but when they were made, they then discovered that the letter ‘T’ had been accidentally dropped and so the banners proclaimed that some chap named Chris had risen. Many media outlets ran the story.
What is perhaps funny about it is that everybody knows to whom the banner is supposed to refer, so just how daft did the banner maker have to be to not notice until after it had been made?
This however is not the item of religious weirdness, but instead highlights the actual item that is.
There are literally millions of people who believe that God became human, died, and then came back to life on the basis of exactly zero credible evidence that this is actually true – that is today’s truly weird news item.
In once sense it is perhaps understandable. People have inherited this culturally acceptable bit of weirdness and generally tend to not give it too much thought, but instead simply accept it because everybody around them accepts it. It is an inheritance rather than a well thought out conclusion.
Those that have a deep emotional religious experience will of course assert that it is true. If you asked them how they know this, then there are two rather common answers
- It all all documented in the bible
- They have a personal experience of Jesus that enables them to verify that it is true
Let’s briefly review each.
The Bible documents it
There are several key points here. Firstly, the bible is not eyewitness testimony. If you believe the bible to be true, then you must accept this as true because the author of Luke tells you this himself at the start of his Gospel.
Secondly, the gospels were written many many decades after the events described. Mark’s gospel is the earliest and is generally accepted to have been written in 66-70 CE. Some might quibble about that date, but their argument is not with me, but instead is with the vast majority of scholars who base this dating upon the observation that the text refers to events that happened in that precise timeframe and so can’t have been written earlier than that.
The third key observation is that beyond the gospels there is a stunning silence regarding the events described. That is very surprising because what is described is neither obscure nor ignorable. Take for example the following text from Matthew 27:51-53. It describes an earthquake and a zombie apocalypse …
51 Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, 52 and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
The text is claiming that after an earthquake and the resurrection of Jesus lots of other dead people rose up and started wandering about. Apart from the reference in Matthew, no other contemporary author makes any reference to this actually happening.
If you are relying upon the bible as an accurate source for the Easter claim then this is part of the package deal. You don’t get to pick the bits you think are true and discard the bits you find silly and not credible.
If it was factual then it is rather astonishing that other contemporary writers who wrote about events in the region at that time do not appear to have noticed any of this. We are talking about a time when historians such as Josephus would record some rather surprising details such as this …
The people had assembled in Jerusalem for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Roman cohort stood on guard over the Temple colonnade, armed men always being on duty to forestall any rioting by the vast crowds. One of the soldiers pulled up his garment and bent over indecently, turning his backside to the Jews and making a noise as indecent as his attitude. This infuriated the whole crowd – The Jewish War 2.223
Roman soldier farts and it gets recorded in history. Dead people rising up … nada, nothing, not a whisper.
It is not the only example, there is also the description of an eclipse within the Gospels. This is easily testable, simply crunch the numbers and work out if there was one. The answer is nope, not possible. Once again, outside of the gospels there is no reference to this or any of the other associated aspects of the Easter claim by anybody.
This stunning silence roars very loudly.
In essence, people are citing the gospels as “evidence”, and yet these texts contain clear evidence that they were fabricated and do not describe real events. They are in essence religious propaganda.
The other form of evidence that is commonly cited is that people discuss their own personal religious experience. While you can be sure that such claims are truly sincere, you can also be sure that emotional religious experiences are not in any way an objective verification of historical events.
What is rather revealing is that there is also no experience consensus.
Instead there is a vast diversity of different conflicting religious experiences within Christianity. For example Catholicism asserts that only they are the one true church and all others are wrong. For those inside, what they experience conforms completely to the belief system. Pentecostals different embrace concepts such as the Baptism in the Spirit and speaking in tongues, and declare that those who reject such notions are wrong. Others reject speaking in tongues and would assert that all you need to do is to invite Jesus into your heart, and reject those that practise things such as speaking in tongues as wrong, etc…
We are in essence emotional creatures and so the success of any belief is that it leverages human emotions. When we become emotionally invested we then often embrace the associated ideas as “truth” despite the complete lack of any evidence for the ideas actually being true.
We live in an age where the term #FakeNews has become a thing. The promotion of claims that do not have any evidence to back them up might indeed be very much a Trump attribute, but he has no monopoly on it. Various media outlets such as Breitbart or Fox News have also gained a well-deserved reputation for the promotion of fiction as fact.
None of this is really new. Our entire history is one in which #FakeNews has always played a prominent part within the political arena. However, step outside that political arena and you soon realise that within the religious arena the true masters of #FakeNews prevail.
For many people politics often inspires a healthy skepticism, and so to truly appreciate the mastery that belief has nurtured you need to appreciate even those who don’t actually believe the various claims still often retain a socially determined respect. Given that the various religious claims have no evidence at all, then this is indeed the ultimate #FakeNews, and that is indeed weird.
Regular News Items
Since I do normally highlight items of religious weirdness, let’s also take a quick pass at that. Has anything weird popped up during the last seven days that was motivated by a religious belief.
No, nothing happened, everybody decided to be quite normal.
Oh wait, that’s not what happened, here are stories from the past week …
- Every Good Friday, This Man Is Nailed to a Cross, and He Loves It
- Hawaii Megachurch Accused of Human Trafficking and Using Violence to Raise Money
- Houston Pastor, a Spiritual Adviser to George W. Bush, Charged With Wire Fraud
- Pastor: A Christian Revival is Underway Because Trump Has “Sincere Fear” of God
- Liberty University Opens “Sophisticated” Gun Range (Just Like Jesus Wanted)
- Christian College Head Who Compared LGBTQ People to ISIS Can’t Handle Backlash
- Denver Cops Arrest Youth Pastor for Alleged Sexual Assault of 17-Year-Old Victim
- Christian Snowflakes Melt Over Sweet Jesus Ice Cream Shop’s “Offensive” Name
- Pastor Who Starved 2-Year-Old Boy to Death During “Exorcism” Gets 99 Years
- Jewish-Colombian TV News Anchor Asked to Resign for Not Crossing Herself on Air
- Anti-Gay Pastor Charged with Molesting 8 Kids, Telling Them to Sit on His Face
- Christian Claims, Without Proof, That WI County Board Candidate is a “Witch”
- Pastor John Hagee: “Atheistic Hands” Nailed Jesus to the Cross
Just another “normal” week then.