Christian “truth” in Shreds: Epic Takedown, Number 9, continued

There’s no way to verify exactly which Jesus is in Christian hearts

Just how many humans on Planet Earth “feel Jesus in their hearts”? Devout Jews and Muslims probably have no use at all for this common Christian claim; they feel “close” to their god—whatever that means—with Jesus playing no role whatever. But never mind, many Christians feel Jesus so intimately, so closely, that they proclaim proudly that they even “belong to Jesus.” They’re pretty sure that this Jesus who owns them is, beyond any doubt, wonderful. For those who read the Bible, however, this Jesus may be hard to find, indeed may be cancelled by so many texts that preachers don’t read from the pulpit, that artists don’t depict in stained glass.


Naturally, Christian apologists—academic theologians, ordinary preachers and priests—do their very best to make Jesus look good. They use a variety of methods to deflect attention from the most alarming Jesus quotes, or put positive spins on them—or insist that they’re metaphors. They have to make the case that Jesus was the perfect teacher. Believers usually don’t detect the deception being practiced here. They have been coached, indoctrinated, groomed since toddlerhood to feel Jesus in their hearts.   


Robert Conner, in his new book, The Jesus Cult: 2000 Years of the Last Days, shows exactly why cult captures the truth about Christianity from its inception. In my article here last week I commented on two bedrock beliefs that Conner analyzes: (1) that Jesus was expected to descend through the clouds to establish his kingdom—and this was to happen soon. There is enough Jesus-script in the gospels, there are enough warnings in the letters of Paul, about getting ready now. History has demonstrated that this theology was delusional. (2) Jesus had been resurrected from the dead, a belief borrowed from other ancient cults that adored dying-and-rising savior gods. Conner demonstrates that the authors of the gospels fumbled badly when they invented their resurrection narratives, i.e., there are too many contradictions and plot flaws. 


Christians who are not locked into taking these accounts literally usually make adjustments. “Jesus arriving on the clouds soon, Jesus raised from the dead—these are concepts that capture spiritual truths. We have to dig for the deeper insights into god; the gospel writers expressed them as best they could." Which is to say, actually, not very well at all.


Maybe Jesus, The Perfect Teacher is a way to rescue the faith, a way to hold on to feeling Jesus in your heart. But Conner, in his Part Four, “Jesus Family Values,” shows why no one should want to feel Jesus in their hearts, given so much inferior Jesus-script.


One of my favorite texts in the gospels is Mark 3:21. Jesus had been preaching to the crowds and casting out demons: “When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’” Interestingly, when Matthew and Luke copied so heavily from Mark’s gospel, they left out this verse. In their gospels, Mary had been properly impressed by events surrounding the birth of Jesus—so she must have told his siblings, right? Preaching and casting out demons—initiating the kingdom of God—that was what he was supposed to do.


But we come back to the cult flavor of the early Jesus movement. Any religious leader who is sure he has been appointed by a god—or even is a son of god—can have a big ego. Or something far more serious, as Conner explains: 


“For the attentive reader of the gospels, Jesus of Nazareth sounds like a classic case of dissociative identity disorder, a person in whom two or more distinct personalities coexist. The Jesus Christians love to quote—“I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)—has a darker other self.” (p. 54) And he quotes the Jesus-script that has caused so much anguish and handwringing among Christian apologists, Luke 14:26:


 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” 


Elsewhere I have called this scary extremism, which is a mark of cult belief. No matter how much apologists try to spin this, the Greek work for hate is right there. They insist that their idealized Jesus couldn’t have meant hatred of family or life itself. How they presume to know the mind of Jesus—so many centuries later—well, they don’t tell us. Bottom line: the Jesus they feel in their hearts can’t be that kind of guy. Then there’s this embarrassment: Luke reported Jesus said this. Since he was writing to promote the early Jesus cult, how is it not obvious that loyalty to the cult was considered far more important that family loyalties? 


Conner cites another Jesus quote, (Matthew 10:35-36) that is almost as unsettling: “For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies will be members of his own household.” Conner notes that Jesus also fails as the Good Shepherd with this proclamation, Luke 12:49, “I have come to set the world on fire and I wish it were already burning!” In fact, cult fanaticism finds yet another expression, in Mark 10:29-30. If followers give up everything for Jesus their reward is eternal life—after getting all their stuff back! 

“Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the good news who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.” 

Conner ponders this strange text: “Wives and children are never mentioned among Jesus’ entourage, but children are named among those his followers might abandon… Did he consider the loss of family members, brothers, sisters, mothers and children, as the equivalent of losing a field?”  (pp. 57-58)

Cult fanaticism can also be found in Jesus-script that priests and preachers always tone down with metaphorical interpretations, for example, Matthew 5:29-30 in the supposedly magnificent Sermon on the Mount:


If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.”


This is grotesque imagery. Conner also notes that it gets worse, e.g., Matthew 19:12:


“For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”


Conner gives examples of English translations of this verse that lie. The reference to castration is muted or omitted, e.g., “choose to live like eunuchs,” “stay single,” “others are celibate.”  


“Apparently the translators of these dishonest renditions think the Son of God, who “knew what [men] were thinking” before they said anything (Luke 6:8), didn’t know the difference between castration and celibacy.” (p. 55)  


“Surely no rational man would think himself spiritually elevated because he had removed his own testicles! That reaction would be true if we were talking about rational people, but we aren’t. We’re talking about early Christians.” (p.56) 


We’re talking about fanatically devout members of the cult, but their behavior is based on Jesus-script found in the gospels. This Jesus-script, ghoulish references to self-mutilation, is right there for everyone to see. Is this truly the Jesus that people feel in their hearts, the Jesus that people belong to? No, that must be a cleaned-up Jesus. Moreover, I wonder if these folks pay much attention at all to what Paul wrote to the Galatians (5:24): “And those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Surely this text is not quoted much by ministers who offer pre-marital counseling. 


A couple of texts in Galatians also demonstrate a huge problem for Christianity:

‘For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin, for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:11-12)

“But when the one who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the gentiles, I did not confer with any human, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterward I returned to Damascus.” (Galatians 1:15-17)

Paul made a point of distancing himself from the people who had known Jesus, and he had never met Jesus himself. So it’s hardly a surprise—but also an embarrassment—that this greatest Christian missionary didn’t mention in his letters the teachings and miracles of Jesus that we know so well from the gospels. And we’re pretty sure that the gospels were written by people who had never met Jesus either. The gospel narratives were created decade after Jesus, by theologians determined to promote the Jesus cult.


Hence we end up with a muddled mess of theology in the New Testament, which Conner summarizes brilliantly:


“To no one’s surprise, modern Christian apologists, armed with stacks of diplomas from Bible colleges, have ginned up books and blogs by the hundreds to validate the conflicting, nonsensical New Testament stories; the very fact that Bible stories require a small army of trained apologists to Jesusplain the contradictions is prima facie evidence the stories are fabrications.”  (p. 68)


This statement is found near the opening of Conner’s Part 5, “Fact Exempt, Tax Exempt, Above the Law.” We don’t need facts—that is, reliable, verifiable, objective data about god(s)— seems to be the creed of religious advocates. Conner quotes William Lane Craig:


“The way in which I know Christianity is true is first and foremost on the basis of the witness of the Holy Spirit in my heart. And this gives me self-authenticating means of knowing Christianity is true wholly apart from the evidence.”


On the basis of the “witness of holy spirits in the hearts” of theists who disagree profoundly with each other about god(s), we are left in deep confusion about what goes on in the supposed spiritual realms. Surely Craig is playing to his target audience, but in the wider marketplace of ideas, this won’t do, as Conner notes: “What is a “self-authenticating means of knowing…wholly apart from the evidence” but belief in belief and how would we distinguish belief in belief from, say, mental illness?” (pp. 70-71)


Under the categories, Tax Exempt and Above the Law Conner discusses the horrible ways in which Christian belief, Christian grasping for power and influence, have impacted human life. 


The book closes with Part 6, The Skeptic’s Panarion, Conner’s reference to a treatise by Epiphanius (a bishop who died in 403), in which he refuted heresies. Conner states: “…I offer my own medicine cabinet of remedies against the hydrophobia of belief in belief.” (p.94)


“It has often been observed that every person finds the Jesus he’s looking for. Indeed, Jesusgate is hardly a new phenomenon; the early Christians, nearly two millennia closer to the source than we are, hardly knew what to make of Gospel Jesus. The orthodox trinitarian position was not hammered out until the early fourth century and even then it was not universally accepted. Before Christology finally gelled in the orthodox mold, there were a profusion of competing interpretations of Gospel Jesus.” (p. 94)


So this is a challenge to Christians: Just who is the Jesus you feel in your hearts? Who is the Jesus you belong to? Chances are overwhelming you’ve been groomed by your brand of Christianity to think of Jesus the way it does. Conner’s medicine cabinet includes John Loftus’ classic, The Outsider Test of Faith: How to Know Which Religion Is True


Conner identifies a major flaw in Christian apologetics:


“The sturdy skepticism in force when assessing the claims of other faiths are conveniently set aside when examining the claims of Christianity. After Loftus criticized this feeble habit of special pleading by proposing the Outsider Test of Faith, the reaction of apologists was predictable: squealing and squawking punctuated by howling and barking.” (p. 100)


This is hardly a surprise, since there’s no way to verify exactly which Jesus is in their hearts



David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. He is the author of two books, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith (2016; 2018 Foreword by John Loftus) and Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (2021). His YouTube channel is here. He has written for the Debunking Christianity Blog since 2016.


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