Saved? From What!?
I just peeked at Pastor Jeff's web page. There is a link called "Not Saved? Upgrade Now" via which you can save your soul. (Boy, the web is amazing, ain't it?) Because you were briefly a Christian, I'm hoping you can answer a question for me. Saved from what? This is not a flippant question. I was raised atheist and I honestly don't know what it is these people are trying to "save" me from. My only guess is "hell." I am, by any objective standard, a decent, honest, and hard working person, but they seem to be saying that if I don't agree with them, they believe I'm going to "hell"? That's just plain mean.
From: "Positive Atheism" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: "Carey Sherrill"
Subject: Re: From What?
Date: Saturday, March 10, 2001 7:14 AM
A full 6005 years ago (give or take), God formed Man from the dust of the ground, asked him to find a "helpmeet" from amongst the animals, and when none was found, God anesthetized the man and pulled out one of his ribs, and formed Woman -- according to one account. According to the other, he created them both on the same day, and then created the animals later. Go figure.
Anyways, according to one account, God told Man that all the herbs were for him to eat. The other account says that God (actually, "the gods") said that we don't want you to eat from this one particular tree, lest ye "become as one of us." (It really says that! In order to get around this, Mohammed came up with what is called the majestic plural pronoun, and even though Islam is viciously monotheistic, the Koran only refers to its deity as if they were a bunch of deities.)
So, this god -- or these gods -- whatever -- believed in animism, wherein something as simple as an apple has magical powers. In His (or Their) infinite wisdom and foresight (not to mention Parental responsibility), God (or the gods) placed a smooth-talking snake (yup!) in the garden, for the express purpose of trying to talk not the man, but his wife, into eating the forbidden fruit! Nowadays, in our post-Enlightenment society, which is based in humanistic ideals, He'd be thrown right in the crap house for child endangerment!
So, they ate the apple and their eyes were opened and they knew right from wrong because of the magical powers contained in the apple. I say "apple" but purists will point out that it doesn't say "apple" but that the "apple" part is just a myth -- just like the rest of the story.
Now, for 4000 years, this whole thing was just a myth: it was never really taken literally, but was seen mostly as an allegory to show that we ought to obey even if we don't understand. It was also used to explain death to the youngsters, until they grew up and could face the brutal reality of death.
About 2000 years ago, this Roman fellow named Saul tried to marry a cute young Jewess, but her father wouldn't let him unless he went to Pharisee school. The Pharisees were the nationalists, whereas the Sadducees were quislings to the Roman occupation. The Sadducees were a small but powerful sect, whose power and influence were inherited through bloodlines. They didn't need to work for anything they got, so they didn't -- and that's why they lost everything, particularly their respect amongst Jews.
The Pharisees were a general school of thought, like Democrats, with various subdivisions within this general group. Some of the Pharisees were militant nationalists, very humanistic and very materialistic; these were called the Zealots. It was from this group that Jesus is said to have chosen his followers. We know Jesus himself wasn't a Zealot because if we know anything at all about Jesus, it is that he believed in the supernatural to the point of thinking one is better off accomplishing a goal through supernatural means than by working for it. The Zealots were on the opposite end of the spectrum, thinking that even if there is a God, He's not going to help us out of our mess -- so we'd better get hopping, because if we don't do it, it won't get done. The Zealots were men after my own heart.
Meanwhile, Saul bombed out of Pharisee school, which is shown by comparing his style of thinking with that of the Pharisees, who were quite advanced for their day -- more so than even the best Roman thinkers of the time. However, Saul would later brag that he was one of the top Pharisaic achievers of his day. We know a lot about this era, and Saul is the only one who said this about himself; nobody else in the world of Hebrew scholarship had ever heard of him until long after the sect he founded started causing grief for the Hebrews. One of the earliest independent records of Saul is from the Ebionites, alleged followers of the nationalistic human messiah named Jesus. The Ebionites said that Saul was an opportunist and a charlatan and a whole litany of other synonyms for carnival barker.
To get revenge, Saul started working for the Sadducees, and focused heavily on this one sect which was causing quite a stir by saying that the Hebrew Messiah had already arrived, been killed, was raised from the dead, and was soon to return and shake off the yoke of Rome. Saul knew all about this because in the Roman world, everybody who was anybody had not only been raised from the dead, but had been born of a virgin, to boot! So this guy must be at least as important as all the others, since they were saying he had been raised from the dead and all -- he must likewise have been born of a virgin.
Saul studied their ways, and also those of a sect called the Gnostics, who believed that the world was evil, created and ruled by an evil god, and so they lived in this godforsaken retreat and ate locust and refused to fuck and everything. They taught that Gnosis, a form of enlightenment, came down into this darkness and transformed the enlightened. They had a teacher who was dead, but was revered as a great spirit of some kind, a light in the darkness.
The other group, later called the Ebionites, were trying to shake the yoke of the Roman occupation. They had a leader named Jesus who thought that the prophesies of the Hebrew Scriptures referred to himself, which said that he would stand upon the Mount of Olives and it would cleave in two and the Romans would be defeated. He had one of his followers pretend to betray him, just to get the Roman armies up onto the mount. On the eve of the Feast of Booths (autumn) he brought his disciples together, had them grab a few swords (just for show -- they wouldn't need any swords because he had supernatural powers), and he laid his trap for the Romans.
There's no such thing as the supernatural, is there? So the Romans grabbed him, and he languished in prison for a while and was later put to death as an example. Everyone caught in an act of sedition against Rome was crucified, and nobody was crucified for any crime other than sedition. This was to be a very vivid example, indeed, because they'd tie you to a cross and leave you there, letting you die slowly over the course of several days. Special people (read: rich people whose families bribed the officials) were put to death mercifully by having nails pounded into their bodies in addition to the ropes.
So, anyways, Saul gets this idea that would end up wreaking havoc on the Jews for the rest of history (though he probably didn't realize that this would happen, he just wanted to inflict as much collateral damage as he could, and he was quite clever and understandably angry).
Here's what Saul does: he changes his name to Paul and infiltrates one sect of the followers of Jesus, and tries to gain their endorsement. He does this by following their understanding of God's will, which is to follow the Hebrew Torah and teach that Jesus was not a failed Messiah, but would return just like Elijah.
Then he has this Epiphany: He had grown up as a Pagan and believed that the various gods (formerly important men) died and were raised from the dead. By identifying with that death and resurrection, your life would likewise be renewed -- in a "spiritual" sense (whatever that means). He also heard about the Gnostics who taught this pure light coming down upon select people in this dark, evil world, and transforming them literally into heavenly empowered beings who still had bodies of flesh. In the Epiphany, he puts two and two together, and hangs all this upon the life story of that poor bloke who was crucified for sedition.
Of course, the original followers of Jesus didn't buy this, and sternly denounced Paul amongst themselves -- at least until Paul brought a huge donation from the Gentile churches. But the rest of the Gentile world didn't know anything about what the original followers of Jesus taught or what they thought about Paul. They had to take Paul's word for it because he was the "apostle to the Gentiles" whereas the others stayed in Jerusalem and vicinity. So he told Jesus's followers that he was teaching the Law (he even ritualistically shaved his head to "prove" his loyalty to the law), but when he went to the other countries, he taught this new religion he'd invented: Jesus was the Jewish god. He was born of a virgin (there's that virgin birth again) and came to this evil world to save mankind from the effects of having eaten the apple in the Jewish mythology.
But here's where Paul had his coup: Instead of just being an allegory, instead of the apple causing literal death as an explanation for the kids, Paul's apple caused spiritual death (whatever that means). The original apple symbolized the price we pay for even having an opportunity to live and think and breathe and love: we all gotta die, and that's just the fact of life. But Paul changed all this and said that death means "separation from God" and that physical death is but a manifestation of real (or "spiritual") death. (This he derived from the Gnostic angle.)
So, Paul's god retroactively gets all pissed off at the first man for eating the apple, and takes it out on every human who has ever lived and who ever will live. He is forced to be this way because of something Paul calls Justice: Paul's god has no choice in the matter, and must inflict Justice upon the poor hapless humans even if He does not really want to do this because He is merciful.
I would never have guessed any of this in a million years, but Paul says that we all instinctively realize all this by nature.
So, since Paul set the stage for this sin and misery that we all wallow in, he has to come up with a solution: since the first man sinned unto death, the second man, Jesus, obeyed unto righteousness. You see? It makes perfect sense if you don't think about it! And what was Jesus's act of obedience? He pretended to be the Jewish political Messiah so that the Romans would sentence him to death on the cross for political sedition (the only way one can earn that penalty, remember). If the Romans thought he was a political Messiah, then that meant they knew that he was planning to usher in a new era of Hebrew self-rule, and that constituted sedition.
And just like America's drug laws, all they needed was a conspiracy rap and they had him: he didn't actually have to do anything; all he needed was for them to think he was up to something. So, unlike the historical Jesus, Paul's Jesus only put on the appearance of being the Hebrew political Messiah: he spoke of a "Kingdom" which was later understood (by Paul) to be "not of this world" -- or so say the followers of Paul. But at the time, nobody knew this -- not even Jesus. Only later did Paul realize that Jesus was not really talking about a literal political kingdom.
And you can be sure that Paul's people retroactively placed words into Jesus's mouth to this effect when they wrote his life story. Paul's followers compiled the Gospel accounts long after Paul had died, long after Jerusalem and vicinity had been leveled by Titus and his armies. By the time the Pauline version of the myth of Christ reached the bookstores, there was nobody left to dispute what they said. This is just like the many biographies of parental Hollywood stars that we often see turned into made-for-TV movies -- nobody is there to defend the truth; nobody is left to set the record straight. And Paul's followers knew this, of course! They broadcast their message only to those who would never know the difference: as Porphyry (circa C.E. 280) explained, the original Christian groups were composed mostly of the unlearned, and the Christian message was carried almost exclusively to Gentiles.
Paul's Jesus, now having undergone the Pagan Roman dying and resurrection, now qualified to host that form of sympathetic magick wherein one identifies oneself with the god to the point where one actually dies ("spiritually" -- whatever that means) and then is raised from the "dead" a new creature. Unique to Paul's Paganism is the notion that this Earth is a deadly wicked and dark place, and that by being "saved," we become creatures of the light, who are now merely "sojourning" among the living "dead" but our citizenship is now in the Realm of Light.
Paul's religion is essentially pagan except for this added gnostic element of Earth being dark and wicked and the realm of The Evil One. The other big difference from regular Paganism is that Paul expected his followers to take his myths literally, whereas before, the myths were admittedly allegorical and did not mean much.
There you have it. If you are confused, don't feel alone. The Jesus upon whose life story this myth was erected wouldn't understand it either. He was just thinking about his country and his people. He figured that his God would act only if his people straightened up their act religiously and morally, so he was a bit of a moralist, to boot. He also knew some parlor magic, as did most wandering preachers of those times, and this was not seen as unethical because it drew support for the cause (sound familiar?).
So, if the tree in the garden was the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and eating this tree of knowledge (in a sympathetic magic sort of way) was our downfall -- our curse, if you will -- then being saved can mean only one thing:
Jesus died to save you from
the curse of thinking for yourself.
In Christianity, thinking for yourself is the ultimate act of wickedness. This is why they will set aside their sectarian differences and unite to wipe out atheism and humanism and other philosophies which celebrate the marvelous abilities of the human mind. They will sternly denounce and viciously oppose any system which would vow "eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." (Thomas Jefferson was speaking about the Christian clergy when he said this, in case you forgot -- or in case they never taught that in the public schools.)
Frank Zappa put the same idea into the modern vernacular:
"So, just be a dumb fuck and you'll all go to heaven. That's the subtext of Christianity."
To: "Positive Atheism List"
Subject: Re: From What?
Date: Saturday, March 10, 2001 1:43 PM
"If two men agree on everything, you may be sure that one of them is doing the thinking."
Thank you! That is the the most complete (and funniest) explanation of what it means to be "saved" I've ever received. Asking "savers" got me nowhere. I should never ask someone to explain themselves; always go to an outside observer. Paul (Saul) was obviously thinking when he came up with this tidy scheme. So, is he "unsaved" or is there some retroactive exemption? If you want to subjugate a bunch of people, what better way than teach them they'll be rewarded for keeping themselves stupid. It works on so many levels: It's easy; it takes very little effort to be stupid. You get a treat at the end; everyone loves getting treats. Most importantly, it prevents those annoying probing questions.
If thinking is a curse then damn me baby! I'd rather roast in the light of the flames of hell than stumble through life without the light of reason.
I hope someday soon you can get some of your writings published in book form. With five or six years of essays and correspondence from which to draw, there is bound (bad pun) to be enough material for an organized collection. Your knowledge and experience with both camps certainly gives you credibility enough. There is great value in the responses you prepare. The one you just gave me is a prime example. In book form they might reach a broader audience.
From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: From What?
Date: Saturday, March 10, 2001 5:22 PM
"If two men agree on everything, you may be sure that one of them is doing the thinking." -- Lyndon B. Johnson
Ah! So that's who said that! I've been using that one for years!
I hope someday soon you can get some of your writings published in book form.
Yeah, but editing the thing would be a nightmare.
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
people with no reason to believe
Material by Cliff Walker (including unsigned editorial commentary) is copyright ©1995-2006 by Cliff Walker. Each submission is copyrighted by its writer, who retains control of the work except that by submitting it to Positive Atheism, permission has been granted to use the material or an edited version: (1) on the Positive Atheism web site; (2) in Positive Atheism Magazine; (3) in subsequent works controlled by Cliff Walker or Positive Atheism Magazine (including published or posted compilations). Excerpts not exceeding 500 words are allowed provided the proper copyright notice is affixed. Other use requires permission; Positive Atheism will work to protect the rights of all who submit their writings to us.