update: December 22, 2021 (scroll down)
Something completely different here: on this page you'll find my efforts to describe why I'm not a Christian and what I think about the Bible and the Christian religion. These subjects are important to me and I'd like to express my thoughts. This will be done over a course of days, weeks or months to come. My intention is to write something every now and then and add it to this page until it's all been said. I'm not offering a blog where people can join in and give their views or arguments, but of course you can send me a message so we can talk about these matters in a more private context. I'm not interested in fighting over these issues, but sharing to get a better understanding is fine with me. There's no need for you to agree with me or vice versa.
In my vision, love and reason are essential for optimal human life and for the conditions to be able to live together on this planet. These characteristics should define our goals and commitments and they can very well be understood within the human boundaries. The world is the place where we live, with fellow human beings, all citizens of the world. Land, region, town, tribe, family, etc., are less relevant and can only mean something when we consider ourselves children of this world in the first place, all equal, all alike yet different. Religion can add to the understanding of this, but more often it completely fails in this respect. This can be explained by the fact that religions have a strong tendency to define truth in a very specific way. Usually, this way is not inclusive but exclusive when the defined truth is not a shared one. In other words, when you don't believe like I do, you're not my kind, you're a stranger persuing the wrong goals and there's actually very little we have in common.
Of course it's all very complicated, but when religions proclaim 'truths' which are outside of the human reason and understanding of the world (like serving a specific God), it's logical that consensus is hard to achieve, while on the other hand, if the first goal of every religion would be that we live according to love and reason, the differences would be less critical. If you have a different God, with a different name, but He encourages you to love and to think like my God encourages me to do the same, well… we have much common ground. Religions have more in common than people often think, when it comes to defining the good and bad in human relations.
Ideas like 'Jesus is the Son of God', 'the Bible is the Word of God' or 'you can't get peace with God but through His Son, Jesus Christ' are dangerous in this respect. Not so much if these concepts are applied to your own individual life, but if you think it transcends the individual and that this 'truth' ultimately is the truth for everyone, and you live and talk that way, conflicts can't be avoided. You adopted an idea, you assume something to be true and if you think that transcends you as an individual and you define it as a general and ultimate truth, than there's a huge risc of sacrificing love and reason. Love and reason should always be first, else there will be conflicts and human history is full of these conflicts, often meaning the most horrible neglect of human dignity. Religious conflicts, or conflicts with a religious origin, often result in behaviour which can't be farther away from love and reason.
And let's face it, how can one be convinced that for example Jesus is the Son of God? Isn't it just an idea formulated by people, put into a book written by people, and given the status of an ultimate truth by people...? You can assume it's the truth, you can adopt the idea, but you may come to very different conclusions as well. That's what I did, and I'll try to explain my considerations.
In my view a Christian is someone who accepted Christ (or Jesus as I will say from now on) as his or her Saviour. Man needs to be saved from sin in order to be re-connected to God and gain eternal life. The Bible is the Christian's 'roadmap', seen as the 'Word of God', an absolute direction for the way life needs to be lived. Being saved by Jesus is an act of grace and was made possible by His crucifiction and resurrection. The acceptance means the sinner is 'born again' to live a new life as a follower of Jesus.
Something else worth mentioning is that, though I'm not a Christian nor a follower of any other religion, I don't deny the existence of a God. It's possible there is a God, who am I to say there's not, but I haste to add that I think it's impossible to know God or to say anything valid about Him. Everyone who tries, be it an author of a ancient Biblical writing or a current day pastor, must rely on assumptions and fantasies as there's nothing more to it.
Theologian Harry Kuitert (1924-2017) believed that all talking about 'above' comes from down below, even the talking that presents itself as from above.
Most Christians believe that the Bible comes from 'above', what is written in its pages is God's Word; it's the truth and nothing but the truth, in a very literal way. Stories in the Bible did all really happen, they do not represent a symbolic truth. It's not a collection of myths. Eve bit the apple, Noah and a few friends and animals survived the Deluge, Jesus was born from a virgin womb and rose from the death some years later...
In a way this conviction equals a claim on the literal truth of fairy tales. If you look at it from a distance, the comparison is not that silly at all. The Bible is full of stories that even Christians won't believe if these stories were taken out of their biblical context. Moses parting the waters? The story of Babel? Mother Mary a virgin? All the miracles done by Jesus? His resurrection and ascension? These are just a few more examples; there are hundreds of them. All unrecognizable in our present world, all opposite to our concept of cause and effect, all incompatible with reason. I think that if you're willing to believe all that, if you're convinced it represents truth, than there's definitely something to explain, at least to yourself.
Some will say that I think too much and that this truth needs to be accepted like a child, in confidence and without doubts. Believing like a child may seem charming but it's a foolish thing to advice to a grown-up. You can easily convince a child that gnomes and fairies exist and the next thing is that they'll be seeing these fantasy figures in reality. Conviction is an important source for what you will experience. More about that later. However, the advice to become like a child is a call not to think, to go back to an inmature state of being. If we have a brain, God-given or not, we should use it, and we should use it especially when important matters like these need to be figured out. The advice not to think, but to accept like a child, is foolish and dangerous.
Somehow we need an explanation why we should see this one book, the Bible, as a God-given truth, while all other books will never have a status anywhere like that. We need to know why we believe that Jesus changed the water into wine to save a party, while at the same time we accept His absence in Myanmar where children were cut to pieces in front of their own mothers. There's a huge discrepancy between the fantasies and assumptions on one side and real life on the other.
September 23, 2021
I'll have to pay some attention to the origins of the Bible too, of course. What we call 'the Bible' is actually a collection of books, letters, etc., with two main sections; the Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible) and the New Testament (the Christian addition to and continuation of the Old Testament). There's no 'old' and 'new' for the jews of course. This collection is a selection as well, as there were much more writings that never made it to the canon. Many different Jesus movements arose in the early centuries following Jesus's life on earth, each having their own ideas and theories about the meaning of Jesus for the world where they lived in. For many of these movements Jesus was an important man, a visionary, whose doings and dealings gave input to creative thoughts and experiments on how to live right, but He was not considered to be the Son of God. Needless to say their writings were not approved for inclusion in the Bible, and so were many other writings, most if which were destroyed.
In the 4th century one of the theories about Jesus, one that had gathered a large following and one that actually did say Jesus was the Son of God, was chosen to be true at the expense of all other theories. Under the influence of the worldly powers of the Roman empire, early church figures shaped the Christian religion, which was based on the Old Testament (Judaism), the life of Jesus, the theories of Paul a.o., Roman cultural institutions and the need to come to an all encompassing collection of ideas for the multi-cultural and multi-religional mess the Roman empire was in. Jesus now became officially the Son of God and the Christian ideology was determined in full and taken for the absolute truth (the grace theory was an important part of it, more about this later). The first complete New Testament dates from the late 4th century. All other theories were banned, corresponding writings were destroyed and the followers of these other theories were deemed heretical. Prosecutions were not new for this era, but there was a shift. Where the romans first sometimes prosecuted Christians and destroyed their writings, it now became the Christians who prosecuted dissentients, destroying all documents that came along with them. It clearly emphasized the absence of reason and love and the prescence of religious blindness. To get what you want by destroying your opponents says all about power and nothing about truth or love or living a meaningful life. Christianity became the religion of the Roman empire and it developed into one of the main driving forces in especially the western world.
So, this new world religion was established by force, serving worldly powers and improper interests. No respect was granted for people with other opinions and theories. What we see here is a smart and dangerous installation of debatable 'truths' (or if you want: villainous lies) to get people moved in a desired direction.
The Gospels were written c. 35 - 70 years after Jesus died, by people who had not known Jesus in person. Their accounts were based on other documents and mostly on oral traditions. Of course these recollections blurred and were adapted, probably often made up. Also, since history was never independently written in pre-modern times, there's little reason to trust the gospels as objective reports of what Jesus' life was all about. It's likely the writers of the Gospels were involved in Jesus movements believing Jesus was the Son of God. Apart from the doubtful sources used for the Gospels, the gospel themselves have been edited over and over again in the history that led to their final contents. These final contents were in line with the then common theological views and far away from Jesus' original message. There's much research done which confirms this.
What became of it, and it's still very relevant for the present day, is a collection of books/writings, put together long ago by some shady religious (or not so) figures, who left out many other writings that we aren't even supposed to know about. They killed their opponents and granted a devine authority to their interpretations and to their self made Biblical canon, defining everything else as sin and delusion. It's the unacceptable early history of the Bible, and of Christianity in a broader sense.
October 4, 2021
It's important to understand that the initial Christian theology precedes the collection of writings collected in the New Testament. So, it's not the New Testament which defined the theology, but the theology which defined the New Testament. Of course, after its installation the further development of the Christian theology was based on the Bible, but the inception shows us a different picture, one that justifies suspicion. A group of people selected the writings, brought them together, edited it where necessary, to better match their beliefs and to create a coherent story (as coherent as possible), and then labelled it as the Word of God. The ordinairy man was entitled nor qualified to oppose or criticize; he just had to accept this Word of God.
The next subject to address is the Bible itself and especially its central theme, which gives a solution for the broken relationship between God and man. In the New Testament Jesus is presented as the answer, as He's supposed to have said: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). Another well-known bible verse is "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
We're talking about the grace theory here. It says that Jesus was sent to this earth to be sacrificied for the sin of men. He who believes, he who accepts this offer, will be freed from sin and his relationship with God will be restored, he will live forever.
The ritual of sacrifice is something we see in many religions as a way to get right with God (or the Gods). Basically, this ritual means that you give up on something that is valuable to you, to compensate for your wrong doings. It is a temporary relief, as you will sin again, so you'll have to repeat this ritual of sacrifice for as long as you live. In many religious traditions, including the Jewish tradition, the ritual of sacrifice is connected to the 'blood of the innocent', which mostly concerns animals, but sometimes even human beings (children) and yes, Jesus was supposed to be an innocent human being too, not knowing sin. So the 'blood of the innocent' is very essential in the Christian religion.
The grace theory was based on the ritual of sacrifice as described above, but some important changes were applied. I'll describe the changes, but first I want to say that I find it remarkable that this ritual was corresponding with what other people were used to in their own religions. It looks like it was constructed to be connected to what people were already familiar with. From a human perspective, this was a very clever thing to do. If you want to sell something, you need to know what people want or what they need and connect to what they understand, to what they're used to. I think this was a brilliant idea to stimulate the masses to go into the direction of the Christian faith after it was accepted as the official religion in the Roman empire. The essence of the Christian religion was designed to make a connection to generally accepted views and habits, so it would be accepted more easily.
The sacrifice to a God means a plea for forgiveness in a general way. Something to think about is that we didn't ask to be born and we didn't choose to be wrong-doers. Not in general. Other than that, the ritual masks the fact that most of your sins affects other people or other living creatures, and it definitely affects yourself. It appears much more constructive to me if the awareness of your wrong-doing leads to apologies to the people you harmed and to the recovery of what went wrong, where possible. The ritual of sacrifice is linked to punishment and reward in relation to a God, but it is much more important that a person comes to understand his wrong tendencies and can improve on his behaviour through love and reason. The general forgiveness from a God, if you think that is needed, should be subordinate to that. It's something I said before: humans and human relationships is what we have to work with, it's what we have and it's what we are. It's the priority in life and a religion with all its assumptions and debatable truths (..) comes next (or not at all).
To add to the above, I think the sacrificing of innocent animals or even a human beings (a child for instance) must be considered as extremely injust. It's based on the idea that a living creature, be it an animal or a child, meant for sacrifice, is the will-less property of the person who has to make the sacrifice. I can't imagine a loving God would approve on this ritual, let alone to incorporate it in His plan to save the world. It's exactly what happened though. God has a Son, born as a human being to be sacrificed as a lamb, His blood forever cleansing the world from sin...
Was it necessary to use this ritual of sacrifice to save the world? Of course not! If you believe in an almighty God, He could have just said that your sins be forgiven, if you want to. And if you'd accept this offer, you'd be free from sin. There is no need for a complicated construction. So, it's more likely a human construction, cleverly invented but with no connection to a devine truth.
Now, let's see what the differences are between the conventional sacrifice and this Biblical one. For one thing, it's not the sinner who sacrifices, but it's God, the 'entity' we're offering to… This is a remarkable twist and opposite to the conventional sacrifice ritual, where the sinner is the one to give up something that is valuable to him. Then this sacrifice is not one that needs to be repeated. It's a one time sacrifice, meant to forgive your past, present and future sins. It's another twist. And to complete the listing: according to the conventional idea, what you sacrifice is gone after the ritual, it's something you'll have to do without from then on. The Christian theology however learns that Jesus rose from the dead, three days after being sacrificed. If the first two differences would still be acceptable, the returning of the lamb means the complete disempowerment of the ritual.
What we see is an ancient practice (ritual) being used and molded into another shape, which is essentially different from the original ritual. Christians still call it sacrifice, the slaughter of the Lamb and use other derivatives, like 'saved by the blood' or 'saved by the Lamb'. To me this is not acceptable. It's unnecessary and so far gone from the idea of sacrifice, that it results in a fantasy, a strange construction of improbabilities. I don't see any devine wisdom here, but human cleverness instead, driven by other interests. Why should I believe any such thing, why would you? Why would anyone accept this as being the truth, as the ultimate plan by an all-loving God? Is it the blind acceptance that this rambling theory has God's approval stamp, because it's in the Bible?
October 6, 2021
Today I'd like to pay attention to another story in the Bible, the story of Noah and the ark. It's one of many stories in the Bible that have a natural place in the awareness of Christians. It's often remembered because of the fact that God promised not to destroy His creation again, with the dove and the rainbow as symbols for that promise. It's a story with quite a few snags if you believe this all happened literally and if you believe that the nature of God is expressed through these events.
At first glance, it's kind of remarkable that God somehow was sorry about the Deluge. God is pictured here as a the Creator who's unsatisfied with the work of His hands and plagued by feelings of frustration, leading to the decision to destroy it all. Acting out of frustration often results in feelings of guilt later on and it looks like this is exactly what happened and what made God say that He won't do it again. Now this gives a rather uncommon presentation of God, as in the Christian world He is an omniscient and caring Father figure, the almighty God of unconditional love. In the story of the Deluge He is presented as a frustrated and vindictive creator, although he repents later on. This illustrates a few of the many faces of God as presented in the Bible. I'll pay more attention to this later but it doesn't give a coherent impression. It seems to be a projection of the human nature instead.
To add to the above, it seems rather obvious to me that the little exception God made by saving Noah from the flood, including his family and a pair of all animal species, would not lead to the desired effect. Why would the world be any better after the Deluge than it was before? An almighty God would have foreseen this, making this Deluge completely unnecessary and it adds to what I said before, that the Deluge was an act motivated by frustration and vindiction.
How many people found their grave in the water? And how many innocent animals were killed? It's quite a bizarre story if taken literally and instead of looking for proof by sending teams up Mount Ararat to find pieces of the Ark, you can better question your faith and think about the whole context of a world that needed to be destroyed by your God of Love. It seems likely, and this is supported by modern research, that some kind of disaster took place at the end of the last ice age, where an area round the Mediterranean was flooded. To me, the story of Noah and the ark is just a myth that was built around these events or another natural disaster. A myth, like all others, that tries to explain the unexplainable so people could understand in a way what happened and why. The Biblical story is false when you take it literally and think of it as a way to know more about God and His way of acting. There are too much contradictions. I understand that doubts about chapters of the Bible and saying that certain events can't have happened like described, undermines the idea of the Bible being the Word of God. In my opinion it's exactly what is so desperately needed. It appears to me that hanging on to the idea of the Bible being the Word of God leads to extreme irrationalism.
October 10, 2021
When reading the Bible, it becomes obvious that the God presented has several different faces. The way Christians often picture Him, as an unconditionally loving God ("God is love"), is just one appearance of many. It's the one that belongs to the New Testament but not so much to the Old Testament, where He is the God of just a few (the Hebrews), where He can be frustrated and vindictive (as we saw in the story of Noah and the ark), and sometimes He's undicided and starts a discussion with a human being to figure out what could best be done. An example of this can be found in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, where God wanted to destroy these cities and talked about it with Abraham. Abraham tried to save these cities by suggesting there still could be a few good men living there. After some discussion, God promised not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah if there were ten good people found. They appeared not to be there and the cities were destroyed, according to the Biblical history lesson, and they were destroyed well, as there has never been found any proof that these cities actually existed.
God and Abraham had some discussion about what could be done best, where God wanted to destroy and Abraham tried to reason about it, trying to save both cities. God was sensible to Abraham's reasoning and was willing to reconsider His plans.
It's a remarkable story, where in fact, God acted like a human being. This could be typical for the God, pictured in the Old Testament; He's a friend to some, an enemy to others, guided by love, anger or doubt. It's a profile we can relate to as human beings, because God appears as a projection of ourselves. In the examples given, we don't see a God who's above all men, almighty and omniscient; we just see ourselves...
Another aspect in relation to the above is the visibility of God. The gospels describe God's concrete prescence in the world through His Son Jesus. Jesus did miracles in front of believers and non-believers; the sick got healed, the dead were risen, bread and fish were multiplied, the water was changed into wine. There was a trail of miracles, everywhere Jesus went, but all of this abruptly ended after Ascension Day.
I think that's a little unsatisfying. The generous display of miracles was replaced by rather obscure ideas of people proclaiming that God still works miracles. I doubt it. What kind of miracles? A contributer to "The Atheïst" website (http://www.deatheist.nl) said: "if someone claims that prayer will grow a new leg after it's been amputated, I'm sure willing to come and have a look".
In life, some things go well, others don't. If we pray for something to go well, and it does go well, is that proof of God's interference? Then how do we deal will everything that goes wrong despite our prayers? I know Christians will come up with answers like "God works in mysterious ways", never being willing or able to doubt what's being thaught by the scriptures. It's a mortal coil of assumptions and false reasons in an attempt to keep the Christian religion upright.
From a loving God I would expect some kind of interference when things go totally wrong; when people are tortured, children are killed, injustice is being done to a poignant level. Millions and millions of lives have been sacrificed to injustice. God wasn't there to stop what was going on, not once, not even when his 'own people' were killed like flies during World War II. Is this all part of God's plan? It's a terrible way to think. To me, this only proves that the God we envision, does not exist at all. How can a loving God be so cruel to allow people's lives being destroyed in the most terrible ways? Even more so considering the general Christian conviction that we humans are the crown of God's creation.
God has become unvisible when comparing the described history in the gospels with the rest of history since then. Another way to look at it is that the image of God and the way He was shown in the world were totally invented by men.
December 22, 2021
One of the last subjects to discuss is 'experience'. If you're a Christian and you've read everything so far, you may say: 'I understand what you say, but I experience God in my life every day, so you must be totally wrong' or 'I experienced the hand of God when I was in trouble and desperately needed help'. What can we say about personal experiences and is it correct that personal experiences are more meaningful than other observations, like the ones I shared with you on this web page?
A specific experience can hardly be a subject of discussion. It's not very meaningful either, except for the person himself, for whom it can be essential. But your experience can't have a convincing impact on my faith. I should at least have a comparable experience and I should also interpret it the same way as you do.
I think there are a couple of problems here. First, I think that experience follows conviction. Maybe it's better to say that conviction directs experience. If you trust your doctor and you're convinced the medicine he prescribes is exactly what's best for you, chances are that the medicine will work, even if it's placebo. You may say that if it works it works and that could be true for a medicine, but I guess, given the subject here, most people want an experience based on truth, not one that's based on a false interpretation of things happening.
In my view, misinterpretations are easily made here. If you tell your kids that monsters exist and hide under the bed to attack if you don't go to sleep immediately, they will believe you and they will fear the monsters as if they were really there. So your kids have an experience of severe fear, based on your story and based on the fact they believed that story. I hope you'll be a little more friendly to your kids, but you got the idea. If you believe God is there and present in your life, you can have experiences that confirm your faith, but there is a strong possibillity this experience is based on your conviction and not on a correct interpretation of what's actually going on. I once got a strong pain in my leg. It just happened without a reason, so it seemed. It lasted 10 minutes and then it went as suddenly as it came and it never came back. This sudden, unexpected and serious pain could have pushed me into prayer, "Dear Lord, please release me from this pain". When the pain went, I could have seen it as an answer to my prayer, not realizing that the pain would have gone without prayer as well. What I'm doing is that I make a connection, giving meaning to cause and effect, based on my conviction and much less on what's actually happening.
So, if you, for instance, experience a moment of consolation, it may fit your religion (the idea of a caring Father) but not reality. The fact that the experience is not exclusive to Christians, it happens to followers of other religions too and even to non-believers, means that there's no proof of any truth in that regard either. What happens is that you mold the experience within your own religious constellation, but the experience is not exclusively connected to or characteristic for your religion. Of course, experiences can be multifarious, but even if you claim that Jesus spoke to you in your dreams, I would be extremely sceptic. If I'd take my dreams serious for what's actually happening in these nightly adventures, I'd make a complete fool of myself. Dreams can have a meaning, a reflection from your inner self, a digestion of things happening in real life, but the ways things occur in your dreams, is completely random and it doesn't follow the paths of reason whatsoever.
December 22, 2021 - Conclusion
Religion is a man-made body of ideas with a devine authority added to it, again by man. I tried to make clear how I'm seeing things and why. The religious person pursues an illusion, based on the Bible (a suspicious collection of books), debatable experiences and perhaps on the fact that his faith is shared with so many others. But truth and mendacity are not defined by popularity. The idea of a God may be defensible but a definition of God is impossible. We should rather explore our human potential within the human framework, including the limits set by birth and death. There are questions that remain unanswered and that's OK with me. I rather have no answer than a lie in disguise.