September 8, 2006

Christianity Primer for Skeptics, Agnostics and Atheist

This essay is specifically directed to those who have consciously rejected the Christian religion (perhaps all religion), especially those who believe they have done so with 'full knowledge'-- that is, after having investigated the claims of Christianity. It is also intended for those who have dismissed Christianity on the basis of 'hearsay' or out of lack of interest or motivation to bother looking into the matter. Now, to the atheist I say 'Look, I'm not trying to change your mind-- what I'm saying is that if you are sincere in your beliefs-- and I know with certainty that many of you are sincere-- then you'll be willing to check into this article simply to see if, in fact, there might be something that you overlooked in establishing your position... which many atheists hold as firmly as any religionist!

Okay, to get right to the point, I'll disclose the core of my thesis: the 'Christianity' that has been presented to the world-- from shortly after the death of Christ until today-- is FALSE! That's right; we've all been reacting to a straw man, a chimera, a false religion. Don't hit that mouse button just yet! Stay with me a while longer, as we explore this assertion. After all, if I'm right, then you will have to re-examine your due-diligence and perhaps even arrive at a different conclusion.

What makes me, a lonely voice of dissent in a sea of religious leaders and followers, think I can support such outrageous claims? Well, I base my arguments on the only objective source available to us, the Bible. Virtually all Christian 'churches' (ie. denominations) and believers trace their faith, their dogma, to 'holy scriptures', almost always the Bible. (I will, for the moment, ignore the differences in versions and translations of the Bible, since I will deal with high level features that are beyond those mundane concerns.) Most people, believers and 'outsiders', apparently are under the impression that altho there are innumerable variations on the Christian theme, there is a core of beliefs that somehow define the Christian faith, and that are shared by the 'mainstream' churches (those whose membership numbers in the millions). In fact, I agree that there is indeed such a small set of foundational beliefs that are put forth as 'Christian' by virtually all the mainstream churches. And it is those very beliefs that I challenge as false; that is, as gross violations of scriptural truth. This is a very serious charge. If you purport to be Christian, then it would mean you are subscribing to a false doctrine. For a sincere atheist, you have probably rejected a false notion of Christianity, which means your position is, therefore, lacking integrity.

After two millennia of existence, what makes the core Christian message false? First, let's see what it is that the big churches proclaim as the heart of Christ's faith. If you ask any seasoned Christian or plow thru a typical book of apologetics, you are informed that the heart of Christianity is 'the gospel.' Okay; what is the gospel? It's a word meaning 'good news,' we are told. Well then, what is this 'good news?' What we are then told is something along these lines: Jesus, the son of God, came to live as a man, died for our sins so that we humans could be saved from eternal death. So far, it sounds pretty good, no? 'Is that all there is to it?,' we enquire cautiously. No, comes the reply. You have to believe in Jesus, have faith in his 'gift of salvation.' Okay-- it sounds easy enough... Is that all? Not quite, say the religionists, as if waiting to close the deal. And here's where it gets complicated... and gets off the rails of truth and into falsehood. After you accept Jesus as your 'Lord and Savior,' you have to live a Christian life. Oh; what does that mean? It means you have to obey the Ten Commandments, is the usual bottom line, if you press the point at all.

So, the 'gospel' proclaimed by mainstream churches can be capsulized something like this: Jesus took on our penalty for evil by dying in our place, and we can have eternal life if we (1) believe in him and his achievement, AND (2) live the rest of our lives in obedience to the Ten Commandments. That's essentially what they say, is it not? Of course, there are different ways of stating it, some differences in details, but in the main, I think that is a fair representation of what people understand about the Christian religion. BUT, is that really what the Bible teaches? To keep this essay brief, I challenge the reader to check into the scriptures for him/herself. Let me give just a few hints, since delving into that big book can be regrettably intimidating. First, if you're studying the Christian faith, go to the New Testament! If you start reading from Genesis, you'll get bogged down in thousands of years of ancient history. You may also get the wrong impression that Christianity is merely an off-shoot of Judaism, a common misconception. Pay special attention to the books of Romans, 2nd Corinthians 2, Galatians 3, and Hebrews. You can't just read these scriptures like stories. To study scripture means to follow cross-references (including to the Old Testament scriptures), to consider the words chosen to translate original concepts, and to seek guidance from 'the Higher Source' however you currently conceive of It.

The other important tack is that scripture itself tells us that the message will be corrupted and will deceive many. Jesus warned his listeners that 'wolves' would enter the 'flock' and lead many to perdition. He wasn't talking about 'outside attacks,' he clearly had in mind people who claim to be religious but are really satanically inspired. The 'gospel accounts' (written by the so-called evangelists) clearly reveal how the same thing had previously happened to the Jewish religion-- Jesus denounced the leaders of Judaism as liars and deceivers who misled the Jews and misused the temple. Paul and John (two scripture writers) warned in their letters that 'anti-Christs' would infiltrate the ranks of believers and present deception disguised as truth. They even stated that it was happening in their own time-- it was not some far-off, future event. (So this idea of one, so-called 'Anti-Christ' is itself not scriptural.) Finally, the terminal book of scripture, Revelation ('the Apocalypse') seems to portray a widespread false system of religion that deceives the masses and wreaks havoc by influencing governments. (Unlike so many pundits, I don't want to speak boldly from Revelation since that source is so obviously opaque, symbolic, and intended to make sense more in retrospect than prospect.)

Such is the power of consensus that people read the NT and completely miss the essential mission of Jesus-- which was to set humanity free from religion! That's right; he didn't come to set up a worldly and worldwide organization to proselytize and establish the domination of 'his religion'. He saw the abuses that became entrenched in the system given thru Moses to the Israelites. He deplored the virulent legalism that characterized the Pharisees of his day... and that persists to this day in most religions. Jesus told his hearers (paraphrasing) that God loves humanity as a father loves his children; that He is not out to condemn for every little infraction of the Law, but He extends forgiveness freely and expects us to behave in like manner with our fellow humans. Is that the message you get from the pulpits of the churches? Not very often! Instead you get uninspiring, anything-goes mush from those few who are reacting to the stifling legalism, or more often, 'fire and brimstone' tongue-lashings from defenders of 'traditional values' and 'Judeo-Christian' heritage. There are those who understand the existence of the Holy Spirit... but who assume that His role is limited to dispensing 'gifts' to true believers, mostly the gift of babbling in 'tongues.'

[I refer interested readers to essays I've written on the subject of Christianity and the Law, to be available on this website.]

Before closing this article, I should probably anticipate a question that may bother some readers-- namely, how did such a major 'error' get insinuated into the very heart of Christ's message, right from its early days, and persist right up to the present? It appears at face value as impossible, incredible. As you can infer from what I've stated, the correct information survives in the scriptures, thanks be to God (literally!)... it's the interpretation, the inference, that got messed up long ago, and stayed messed up. And the reasons that happened lie somewhere in the human psyche, as it functions under the masterful deceptive manipulation of the spirit of Evil (Satan, to Christian readers). Peering back thru the foggy mists of time, it appears that the 'pure gospel' was fully assimilated by the original 12 apostles, and even the original cadre of converts (the '120' mentioned in Acts, and later, the 'thousands' who first joined their ranks after the stirring speech by Peter). Yet, by the time the last apostle (John) died, alternative interpretations were already attracting followers. Some variations on Christ's message were sincere explorations; many were self-seeking and malicious. The defence of the fledgling 'church' against heresies was a preoccupation of the first several centuries AD; but the biggest one apparently just slipped in so innocuously that it was never recognized! That is the notion that Christians 'inherited' the Ten Commandments from the Jews, and are bound by its strictures. Indeed, many reading this will be baffled as to why I even question this idea. Yet, think about it for a brief moment. To whom were the Commandments given? Answer: to the children of Israel. When were the Commandments given? A: when the Israelites left Egypt and journeyed in the wilderness after 430 years of living under Egyptian law. What did Jesus say at 'the last supper?' A: 'This is the cup of my blood, the new covenant, which is poured out for (the) many.' What did Jesus mean? He meant that he was instituting a 'new covenant' that replaced the 'old (Sinai) covenant' of Moses. He also stated (3 times) that he was giving a 'new law,' namely, that 'you love one another.'

The point is that the Sinai Covenant was defined by the Ten Commandment Law, and was given solely and exclusively to the People of Israel... it was NEVER given to 'gentiles!' Moreover and more importantly, it was categorically REPLACED by Christ in his last act of ministry. In proclaiming a new covenant for 'the many', Jesus was saying this one was for everyone, not just Jews. Bottom line: those who buy in to the gospel of Christ have no obligations whatever to the Ten Commandments! Now, NOTE PLEASE: I am not saying that Christians are free to do whatever they want; they certainly are not. What I'm saying is that the 'Decalog' (Ten C's) are obviated as a measure of righteousness; the believer's righteousness is inherited or assumed from Christ, his personal savior. The Christian is called to emulate Christ, his model, in every aspect, but when he fails (as we all do) 'there is therefore no condemnation' (Rom 8:29) and the sinner can simply learn a worthwhile lesson and carry on in the certitude of God's abiding love. There is no neurotic self-flagellation for every stumble in the walk of life for 'those who walk according to the Spirit.'

[So, you diehard legalists who are enraged to read this, please don't rush to your keyboard to 'set me straight' from my heresy. This essay is not a proof of these assertions; I have biblical proof in other papers that you will have to read first before attacking with your unassailable logic.]

To the sincere skeptic who has stayed with me this far, I say 'bravo,' and I hope you 'see' that the common perception of Christianity is quite off-base with the biblical truth. My bet is that most atheists will see this reality more easily than ostensible Christian readers, because they will not have all the 'baggage' of believers, all the 'traditions of men' to defend. The agnostic may see how the Bible is 'purposefully' convoluted and arguable-- that is precisely how God has preserved the essential message from being expunged or perverted by malicious forces. There is so much redundancy and extraneous material in the scriptures that the dark forces didn't know what to tamper with, and couldn't have done so in a consistent manner thru-out all those verses. It's a brilliant strategy that could only have come from God! Let this new insight motivate all, skeptics and insiders alike, to look further into holy scripture, seeking with simple hearts to know 'the truth' that 'shall set you free.'

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